Any anaerobically-gifted, 45+ women out there? Focus on burning fat or building a base?

I’m a 50 yr old woman trying to climb out from a 2.5 year fitness trough after a successful hip replacement.

Since I miss being fit enough to enjoy longer rides, I’ve signed up for Etape du Tour 2023 in early July. 152 km, 4000m elevation gain. Only goal for now is to stay ahead of broom wagon.

Here’s the challenge: I am naturally more turbo than diesel. The shorter the segment–esp if at the end of a ride/race–the better I do. I am also a crappy climber (the two seem to go hand and hand).

I’m also 6kg heavier than the first time I did this event in 2018 (58kg vs 64kg). This is an unprecedented weight gain for me, even after factoring in the reduced activity, likely due to peri-menopausal hormone declines (and I already take MHT).

The prospect of doing a long mountainous event with a much smaller aerobic base while also being (for me) far heavier is daunting. On the other hand, it’s the only way to motivate me to train consistently.

So what should I focus on at this early stage - burning fat or building base?

  • To burn fat, the message I’m getting is active women my age need to up the intensity, and decrease volume. ‘Intensity’ here means Sprint-intensity intervals, i.e. 30 second anaerobic or sprint intervals. It’s supposed to improve our fat-burning at rest (among other benefits).

EDIT: Note that I said decrease volume, NOT eliminate volume entirely. This seems to have been unclear based on the responses so far!

The argument is too much aerobic volume for peri/post menopausal women leads to cortisol accumulation => fat accumulation.

Intensity also refers to strength training: lift heavy - i.e. 5 sets 5 reps to failure. I already do this 2x/week to support another condition.


  • to build an aerobic base the advice for anaerobically-dominant types is lots and lots of z2/z1 volume, and avoid anything > tempo like the plague. Apparently intensity recruits the fast-twitch fibers, which recover far more slowly than slow-twitch.

(This could explain why I was so burned-out late in SSB and all of SSSB back in 2018, not to mention why I’ve always taken forever to recover from long rides, even in my 30s).

Problem is the advice also says this takes years, whereas I have 7 months. And it completely contradicts the general advice for 45+ athletic women.

Anybody else out there have any experience dealing with these issues?

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Focus on bulding base and endurance, so you can enjoy the event. Don’t worry about the weight gain too much - some of it will likely come off when you re-start any training, the rest might just be what your body wants to be at now.

When building endurance, there is no need to avoid tempo and higher intensity like the plague. Just ride your bike as much as you can, and don’t worry too much about the power zones while building base. Just realise that the harder you go, the less energy you have to go longer. And what you want for building endurance is riding longer.
Riding longer also helps with weight loss, simply because it is difficult to make up all those calories you burn. If it takes you a long time to recover from long rides it is likely that you didn’t eat enough (carbs) to make up for the energy loss.

I haven’t heard anything like what you say about post-menopausal advice to only do sprints and HIT training. All the older women I ride with mainly ride long, and none seem to have any issues. Some of them are very fast, good racers, so I don’t know where that “advice” is coming from.

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Isn’t this basically the same thing? The more aerobic fitness you achieve, the better you get at fat burning.

Who is saying this? Really, it would be no problem to sprinkle in short blocks of 30 second intervals but I don’t think that helps you achieve the goal of beating the broom wagon.

This is going to conflict with doing more intensity on the bike. For now, you could probably just do easy base miles plus your strength work. At some point you may want to put the lifting into maintenance mode so that you can do harder workouts on the bike.

I don’t agree with this. Tempo is almost purely aerobic and you can make great gains increasing time in zone at tempo or low threshold. If you were chronically tired on SSB, it may have been too much (3x SS workouts per week) or the rest weeks not frequent enough. Some masters athletes make great gains on 2 on / 1 easy or 3 on / 1 easy week schedules.

For the most part, you just need increasing time in the saddle to achieve your basic goal. Intensity and building FTP will be icing on the cake.

Fellow 50 year-old here! I’m not anaerobically gifted, but more of a diesel. But that uncontrollable, let’s say, undeserved weight gain is mentally so tough, so I can totally relate to where you are at. I am familiar with this advice (Dr. Stacy Sims comes to mind) that makes it sound like low intensity cardio is to be avoided and instead only do “HIIT” and “Lift Heavy Sh**”. But I don’t think that is what she really means. That would be really bad advice for a cyclist, because if you only did HIIT and nothing else, you’d burn out in no time and have no base on which to build those higher intensity workouts. It sounds to me like the audience for this type of advice is for the casual athlete who goes to the gym 3 times a week and that’s it. HIIT in that case would be replacing that slow jog on the treadmill with a circuit with burpees and similar type of fast-moving stuff.

Threshold and VO2 workouts are (or should be) normal features of training plans even for long events - especially hilly ones, and they will help you with the climbing. So there’s your HIIT. And the strength training you are already doing is good - but maybe dial down the sets a little when you are also doing hard intervals on the bike to make your training load more manageable.

I am not a nutritionist, but have consulted with one, and he did not advise training intensively and trying to achieve weight loss at the same time. Although I think it’s probably ok to periodize weight loss during your pre-base and/or early base period. But when you start to ramp up intensity you need to also ramp up your nutrition, paying particular attention to getting enough protein as well as carbohydrate, (as fat takes care of itself). Calorie reduction would mean not getting enough of any of those. Also, your micronutrient needs increase. It’s just not safe, IMO, to be dieting when training hard. Talk about ramping up cortisol!

Also, 7 months is a long time! So you could start off with reduced volume, but consistent training with a weight loss focus, then drop the weight loss focus as you build more towards the last 3-4 months before your event. But this is tricky and spending 3 months with a nutritionist who understands menopause is probably worth the investment.


I’m definitely a diesel - I’d love to have more of a sprint! So I’m sorry I can’t provide guidance from that aspect, but I have struggled with the weight gain. (I’m 47 and perimenopausal.) I agree with @Julie_Kanagy’s advice about how you have quite a bit of time, and also that consulting with a nutritionist would likely be very helpful. I’ve found that “what used to work” doesn’t work anymore for trying to lose weight - and I’ve also found that my body is pretty stubborn. I’ve definitely found a nutritionist to be key to adjusting my intake to enable loss. However I would disagree that you can’t lose weight while training intensely - my understanding is that “it depends”. I was able to lose weight while training intensively and racing, but I know it’s not always feasible. This is where a really good sports nutritionist can help. I also agree that you will need a good aerobic base for your event. You can do a couple of days of HIIT to help bump up the burn, but I certainly wouldn’t just do that.

Anyway, I don’t think you should give up hope. You should definitely focus on the training so you can enjoy the event, and I also agree you’ll probably lose some weight with the longer rides, especially if you fuel yourself appropriately and just pay attention to your intake otherwise.


Personally, I would use TrainerRoad to create a plan for the event as your ‘A’ event and then just not worry about it. Especially if you are time constrained and don’t have hours and hours for long Z2 rides (oh no! I said the Z-number!). Structured training (which includes Vo2 max and intervals - a rising tide lifts all aerobic boats) will likely be your most efficient path forward. The software will keep you from overdoing it.

In terms of weight, it sure is much harder to manage the lbs as we get older - no question. It’s double hard when you are trying to achieve a performance goal. The advice I have seen (and have followed) is to fuel your rides. I do 60-120 g carb per hour – even if only an hour workout where you technically have enough onboard glycogen. I was getting about .5lb/week loss while tracking macros doing that.

Good luck and enjoy the event!

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I have no anecdotes (yet) related to perimenopausal weight gain, but I’m a 58kg punchy rider only a few years behind you, so I’m following along to see what other advice you get.

I’m also curious where this advice is coming from re staying away from aerobic base. I’ve been trying to train my base more (similar to you–I hate climbs!), and I’ve had to significantly increase my intake (trying to focus on protein) to keep my weight from slipping.

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I do agree that we can definitely lose weight during intense periods of training. It happens to me without really trying. I just meant that having a “weight loss focus” during those periods might not be necessary. So getting guidance from a nutritionist is the smart way to go.

And I absolutely love Selene Yaeger’s point of view on “dieting”:


Lots of good advice here. I’m a 47-year old woman. I’m a bit skeptical of Stacey Simms because she is quite dogmatic and I think a “do this, don’t do this” approach just doesn’t work for all people and varied fitness goals. Personally I’ve had really good endurance gains from long low intensity rides, topped up with high-intensity intervals. Regarding your weight, you might lose it or not, but maybe it doesn’t matter. You can always get a 34t cassette and make your climbing easier that way. There will be any number of dudes huffing and puffing on their 28t cassettes. :laughing:


I’d probably interpolate between the two plans you proposed, but place slightly more emphasis on building your base, accepting that this will take years. For such a long event, you’ll spend tons at Z2, and if this isn’t in your nature, then you need some extra practice. Depending on training phase, I’d limit myself to 1–2 days of intensity per week, and fill the rest with Z2 work. Pay attention to your recovery here, I’d err on the side of making your intense days count rather than trying to push yourself too far.

Later in the season, you can combine Z2 with sweet spot. E. g. ride in Z2 for 2–3 hours, and then do sweet spot intervals. Or ride in Z2 for several hours, but add a sweet spot effort once an hour. Both will teach your body to cope with hard efforts on long rides, something you’ll need on race day — 4,000 m of climbing is nothing to sneeze at! Kudos for your ambition.

I would not think too much about weight loss, that’ll take care of itself. You won’t necessarily lose all 6 kg, but if you do it right, you’ll lose some weight before the event. 6 kg is definitely possible, but the faster you lose weight, the higher the probability that you’ll yo-yo.

Before I can give you more concrete advice: how many hours per week do you want to train?

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Yeah, the whole “dieting” thing isn’t really a good mindset. I basically now try to think of it as fueling (overall), and just try to balance what I’m eating with what my goals are and what my body needs. And trying to figure out what my body needs has been a challenge, which is why I got professional help, and it still needs to get tuned periodically. Developing a strong awareness of what I eat, how I eat, what my pitfalls are, and what my body is telling me, has all really helped me through the process. And it’s a process, and it’s ongoing, and it will probably be ongoing forever.

And I understand what you mean about whether you actually need to have a “weight loss focus” or not during the intense training periods. For me, it doesn’t seem to work well if I don’t make SOME changes, but everyone is different.


Hi @OreoCookie

Thanks for your considered response.

how many hours per week do you want to train?

Currently: 3-5 hours.
I’m hoping by February for 5-7.
Then come spring I hope to be in the 7-10 range.

Also have a Mallorca trip planned to late March as re-intro climbing (we used to go annually before the pandemic)

In 2018 I feel I overreached by ramping up both volume and elevation too soon in Jan - I had my first ‘prep’ GF in early March, which was far too early in retrospect. Then I packed on too many trips to mountains + another gratuitous GF, while also going through SSSB LV, I really struggled. Things didn’t come together until early June.

Pay attention to your recovery here, I’d err on the side of making your intense days count rather than trying to push yourself too far.

Agreed. I’ve been reluctant to move down to 2 weeks on/1 week off, but with the added stress of weights (which I wasn’t doing in 2018), I think it’s my only choice.

Since I need weights for both joint stability and bone health, I need to keep 2x a week at least through base. I will go down to 3 sets from 5 as I get used to biking on a schedule again.

I would not think too much about weight loss, that’ll take care of itself.

This wasn’t clear enough in my OP, but I am not as much concerned about net weight loss as body composition. But your point stands. There are only so many things to worry about, and riding longer does tend to burn down the fat.

4,000 m of climbing is nothing to sneeze at! Kudos for your ambition.

EdT 2018 was 3700m, so I have a pretty good idea of what I’ve signed up for. Even if I’m not a climber, I love the satisfaction and views from climbing, it’s one of the reasons we moved to France - there’s so much great riding terrain.

At least this time, I will NOT be doing a bikepack trip across the Pyrenees a week later (when I wasn’t yet recovered from EdT).

Two advantages I do have compared to 2018:

  • my back is healthy (thank you weights + decent PT). It was most definitely not in 2018, requiring weekly chiro visits and then many many stretch breaks during the event.

  • Also, I was sitting on the saddle in such a way that I wasn’t properly recruiting my glutes (a hazard of being mildly hypermobile). As you can imagine, this didn’t help the back issue.

Having fixed both now, I’ve been happily surprised at the lower RPE on the very modest climbs near me, despite the lost fitness and extra lbs. Not PBs, but still OK pace for me.

Thanks again the for the feedback. It makes sense.

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You could start with one intense day per week and later up that to two. E. g. you could add a polarized low-volume block (1 day of intensity, 2 days of endurance) and add endurance as you see fit. Just don’t overdo it, your plan is to up the volume over time (which IMHO is an excellent idea). Plus, your weightlifting adds some intensity, too.

Given that you wrote you are a turbo, you might actually look forward to those VO2max days :grin:

One more thing: I’m almost 42 and a guy, but I reckon my experience is still relevant. The biggest limiter for me is getting consistent and good sleep. To train properly, I need 7:30–8:00 hours per night. When I was in my 20s, I felt that 5–6 hours per night were enough. If I get less now, I tend to struggle to deal with intense workouts. So if you are having trouble sleeping, I’d work on that.

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