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Fueling For Exercise

Nutrition plays a vital role in supporting your overall hormone health. Learn how your diet helps you to feel strong, stay healthy, and prevent injuries in this blog by Stronger U’s Registered Dietitian Gianna Masi, RDN, CISSN, CPT. 

Plus, register for our free live nutrition webinars to walk away with strategies to enhance your transformation and maintain results after the challenge. 

Nutrition for Supporting Overall Hormone Health

Hormones are chemical messengers that are an essential part of how our bodies function. They communicate between and through endocrine glands to a target organ and impact hundreds of processes, triggering domino-like reactions. You may be most familiar with hormones like cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone, estradiol, testosterone, and thyroid hormones. Certain health conditions can be caused by too much or too little of these hormones.

Various factors, including environment, lifestyle (stress, nutrition, exercise), tumors, endocrine gland damage or gene mutations, and autoimmune conditions, can cause hormonal imbalances. When this occurs, we may experience a range of symptoms, including fatigue, mood swings, sleep difficulty, appetite changes, and skin changes.

Hormone health is like a symphony: All macronutrients, micronutrients, water, movement, stressors, and body systems must work in sync for hormones to be balanced. One hormone that is either low or in excess in the body can quickly spiral, leading to imbalances in other hormones and suboptimal health.

With various inputs and outputs signaling our system, hormone health is also complex. Whether someone has a known issue or not, nutrition and lifestyle interventions can support our hormone health.

There are a few ways in which the food and nutrients you eat can impact your hormones. In this blog, we’ll address a few of them.

Energy Intake Needs Supporting Hormone Health

Your overall energy intake can have an impact on hormone levels. One condition associated with altered hormones is Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). RED-S is a syndrome that primarily affects athletes, particularly those with low energy availability. It can lead to a range of health issues, including impaired physiological functioning, menstrual irregularities, and bone health problems (Briggs, 2020). When we exercise and undereat over a long period, we risk being energy deficient or under-recovered, leading to endocrine alterations that impact health and performance (Dipla, 2020). In males, this can lead to a decrease in testosterone, negatively affecting bone health and potentially leading to infertility (Otasevic, 2020). In females, RED-S can cause hypoestrogenism, leading to menstrual dysfunction and decreased bone mass (Dipla, 2020). This doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy to be in a calorie deficit sometimes, but under fueling can have a negative impact when it happens over an extended period. Active individuals must prioritize eating enough nutrients, recovery nutrition, and adequate rest alongside training.

Specific Nutrients and Foods Supporting Hormone Health

In addition to consuming enough food and calories overall, a balanced diet that provides adequate amounts of important key nutrients also supports hormone health. The following nutrients play a key role in hormone health:

Omega-3 fatty acids
There’s a myriad of benefits that omega-3s provide, but specifically for hormones, they play a role in the context of metabolic and reproductive health. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like walnuts, flax seeds, and fatty fish, play a crucial role in metabolic health by modulating inflammation and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases (Zivkovic, 2011). These fatty acids are also beneficial in lowering blood pressure, improving lipid metabolism, and reducing inflammation (Punia, 2019). In postmenopausal women with metabolic syndrome, a diet supplemented with omega-3 led to further reductions in triglycerides, blood pressure, and insulin resistance, as well as an improvement in inflammatory markers (Tardivo, 2015).

Fiber
Fiber is important for hormonal balance because it helps to promote the elimination of excess hormones from the body. Fiber helps control lipid and triglyceride levels. (Dorgan, 1996). Foods that are high in fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. There is also potential benefit from cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts (Ağagündüz, 2022).

Protein
Protein is essential for hormonal balance because it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and can help satiation to reduce cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates. Good protein sources include lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant-based sources, such as beans, lentils, and tofu.

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir contain beneficial bacteria that can help to support a healthy gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is beneficial for hormone health and overall feelings of wellbeing. (Learn more about gut health and fermented foods here.)

Dietary Fat & Cholesterol
Healthy dietary fats such as those found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil can help to support hormones. Dietary fat and cholesterol are building blocks of hormones and makeup neurotransmitters.

Vitamin D
Research has shown links between vitamin deficiencies and metabolic health. Vitamin D specifically has been associated with metabolic syndrome and female reproductive hormones. Fatty fish like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel are among the highest food sources of Vitamin D.

Lifestyle Habits Supporting Hormone Health

Outside of eating enough and eating well to support your activity, lifestyle factors also play a significant role in our hormone health. Here are some additional lifestyle recommendations that support hormone health that you can implement right now:

  • Keep a consistent meal schedule as often as possible. Persistent shifts in mealtimes can disrupt circadian rhythms and alter hormones that impact blood glucose levels. (Yoon)
  • Try to limit and evaluate current stressors. Know the difference between positive stress and harmful stress in your life. For example, eustress is a healthy stress that is beneficial and positive to our growth and well-being. Chronic stress refers to experiencing stressors with no end in sight, placing demands that stretch a person’s resources or push past one’s capacity. Chronic stress has been linked to increased cortisol secretion, particularly in the morning. Chronically stressed individuals may experience an enhanced and prolonged increase in cortisol levels after waking (Schulz, 1998). However, long-term exposure to stress can lead to a decrease in cortisol output, indicating a disruption in the body’s stress response system (Rosmond, 2000).
  • Assess your current caffeine intake and find areas where you can reduce or limit caffeine consumption to support stress hormones like cortisol. (Schulz, 1998).

Another important lifestyle choice that supports hormone health is regularly having blood work done. If you’ve never had blood panels done, getting a baseline is very important. For someone who doesn’t have a medical need for frequent lab work, then annual blood work is a good place to start. Blood serum lab testing is the gold standard for hormone testing. Outside of blood serum, there are other alternative tests that a provider may order, such as urine or saliva tests. No one test is perfect for hormone testing, so working with your healthcare provider to decide the best tests and methods is necessary. Regular assessment of your blood work can help you find nutrient or hormone issues quickly and allow you to adjust before there are health impacts.

Remember, while it’s important to do your best with nutrition and lifestyle, stressing out about which foods to eat can worsen stress outcomes; our bodies are very adaptable. Working with an expert who provides personalized guidance and support can be an excellent option for optimizing nutrition to meet your unique needs. Stronger U Coaches are registered dietitians and nationally certified nutrition professionals who work closely with you 1:1 to provide a science-backed, tailored plan to eliminate the guesswork of achieving your health and body composition goals. Schedule a free consultation with a Coach Concierge to have your questions answered and learn more about the benefits of becoming a Stronger U member.

 

REFERENCES
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Mori, Trevor A. and Lawrence J. Beilin. “Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation.” Current Atherosclerosis Reports 6 (2004): 461-467.
Zivkovic, Angela M. et al. “Dietary omega-3 fatty acids aid in the modulation of inflammation and metabolic health.” California agriculture 65 3 (2011): 106-111.
Davis SR. Testosterone insufficiency in women: Fact or fiction? The Climacteric. 2015;18(5):635-640. doi:10.3109/13697137.2015.1074379
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Harvard Health Publishing. Foods that fight inflammation. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
The Endocrine Society. Hormone Guide 5×5 Grid. https://www.endocrine.org/-/media/endocrine/files/patient-engagement/misc_other/hormone_guide_5x5_grid_25x25_english.pdf
Oliveira R, Marinho AR, et al. Inflammatory foods and chronic inflammation: A narrative review. European Journal of Nutrition. 2022;61:469-482. doi:10.1007/s13679-022-00490-0
Hernández-Alonso P, Fitó M, et al. Association between dietary inflammatory index and metabolic syndrome in the PREDIMED-Plus study. Clinical Nutrition. 2021;40(3):1468-1476. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2020.07.005
El Khoudary H, Matthews KA, et al. The impact of nutrition and lifestyle on cardiovascular risk factors and age at menopause: A cross-sectional analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020;111(4):855-865. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqaa009
McEwan BS. Stressed or stressed out: what is the difference? Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. 2005;30(5):315-318. PMID: 16109713
Wolfram M, Bellingrath S, Kudielka BM. The cortisol awakening response (CAR) across the female menstrual cycle. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011;36(6):905-912. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.12.011
Bornstein SR, Predisposing factors for adrenal insufficiency. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(23): 2328-2339. doi:10.1056/NEJMra0804635
The cortisol awakening response (CAR) across the female menstrual cycle. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011;36(6):905-912. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.12.011
Dipla, Konstantina et al. “Relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S): elucidation of endocrine changes affecting the health of males and females.” Hormones 20 (2020): 35-47.
Dorgan, Joanne F. et al. “Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 64 6 (1996): 850-5 .
Kanter, Mitchell M. et al. “Exploring the Factors That Affect Blood Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk: Is Dietary Cholesterol as Bad for You as History Leads Us to Believe?12.” Advances in Nutrition 3 (2012): 711 – 717.

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