Barbara Birke, MS

Sports Scientist

By Barbara Birke, MS

Sports Scientist

Barbara Birke is a Sports Scientist, board-certified Holistic Nutritionist and Mindfulness Coach, and owner of Optimum You. Her coaching and courses are focused on building and sustaining targeted movement, nutrition, and self-care habits that support women to feel powerful and balanced through perimenopause, menopause and beyond.

Mature Woman Cooking At Kitchen Home

Image by Alba Vitta / Stocksy

March 8, 2023

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Perimenopause (the transition into menopause) is a time when hormones start shifting for women. Once we enter perimenopause, the habits that used to keep us energized, fit, positive, and healthy often don’t quite work anymore.

During this important phase of life, we can strategically adjust our habits to feel better in the short term and prevent any future health risks.


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One way to do so is by switching up our movement routines and doing more strength training (learn why here). Another step that can have a big impact is being more intentional about nutrition.

The following food rules for women over 40 can help address common perimenopause issues like low energy, mood swings, sleeplessness, and increased cravings by supporting your blood sugar balance and hormone metabolism. Talk about small steps, big impact:


Eat a high-protein breakfast.

Starting the day with a high-protein breakfast has been shown to significantly impact satiety hormones1, energy, and well-being throughout the day.

Take a second to consider how you start your day: Are you able to take the time to properly nourish yourself, or are your mornings crazy busy and fueled by muffins and caffeine?

Starting your day with a colorful breakfast that is high in protein and has a bit of healthy fat (like avocado toast and an egg, or a balanced smoothie) starts your day just right—hence why I put together a Breakfast Challenge featuring my favorite recipes.

Slowing down to eat a nourishing breakfast will promote a balanced blood sugar response, leading to more sustainable energy throughout the day. Avoiding extreme blood sugar peaks and drops can also counteract many of the frequent side effects of perimenopause and menopause like weight gain around the middle2, frequent cravings, reduced insulin sensitivity, mood swings, and even hot flashes.


Investigate your coffee habits.

I love coffee, so this truth has been hard for me to accept. But as perimenopause begins, women often become more sensitive to the impacts of caffeine.

For starters, coffee consumption can impact your ability to fall asleep, but also the quality of your sleep. It interferes with adenosine3, which builds up throughout the day and makes us sleepy. As sleeping through the night is often challenging enough during perimenopause, you may be more sensitive to this.

Coffee consumption can also interfere with your natural cortisol awakening response4. A healthy cortisol curve is high in the morning and gets consistently lower throughout the day.

Finally, drinking black coffee on an empty stomach has been shown to cause a steep, unwanted blood-sugar response5 in some people. This spike can cause stress, sweating, low energy and mood, anxiousness, and hunger throughout the day. Anecdotally, I’ve seen women 40+ be more sensitive to these impacts.

Those in perimenopause might benefit from drinking less coffee overall, or adjusting the timing of their caffeine intake.

I’ve seen clients benefit greatly from consuming their coffee with collagen or alongside a balanced meal to avoid blood sugar spikes. Delaying your coffee intake by 60-90 minutes after waking up (and ideally after getting some daylight exposure), you’ll also let your cortisol peak naturally will also be supportive of consistent energy throughout the day. From there, I recommend watching your overall intake and stopping drinking caffeine by noon or 2 p.m. at the latest to support sleep


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Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables. 

Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale are good for you at any stage of your life. They are loaded with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, plus they are high in fiber. But research shows that they are especially healthy during (peri)menopause and beyond.

Their compounds like glucosinolates and indole-3-carbinol—which gets converted to diindolylmethane (DIM)6 in your stomach—have been shown to lower cancer risk7 by, for example, by regulating estrogen metabolism and activity. Regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease8 and decreased chronic inflammation9. All those benefits are essential during perimenopause, so eat up!

The takeaway.

These three steps are simple yet impactful ways to upgrade your nutrition habits during the peri-menopausal and menopausal years. This is such an important time to take charge of your health and properly take care of yourself. Want to start feeling better again? Start implementing one or two of them today.


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