Fuel To Be Kind

Look­ing to boost per­for­mance as the years go by? Smart nutri­tion can make all the dif­fer­ence

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Good nutri­tion can give you an edge when you re­ally need it

Just as late nights take more of a toll as you get older, so does poor nutri­tion. If you’re feel­ing more tired than usual or tak­ing longer to re­cover from hard work­outs, it could be time to look at your diet. For­tu­nately, there are no new rules to learn. ‘It’s not that your di­etary needs dif­fer greatly as you pass 40,’ says John Brewer, pro­fes­sor of ap­plied sports sci­ence at St Mary’s Uni­ver­sity in Twick­en­ham. ‘But if you want to re­cover fast and stay healthy, you need to take nutri­tion a bit more se­ri­ously.’ Here’s how.


If you want to see gains in your per­for­mance, not on your waist­line, now’s the time to think about your calo­rie in­take. ‘ Weight gain is eas­ier as the years pass,’ says Brewer. Older run­ners’ rest­ing meta­bolic rate de­creases, so if you con­tinue to do the same mileage, you would need to re­duce your calo­rie in­take to stay at the same weight. ‘Step on the scales weekly,’ says Brewer. ‘If it’s creep­ing up month by month, even by a lit­tle, take ac­tion.’

Dr Car­rie Rux­ton, di­eti­tian and spokesper­son for the Health Sup­ple­ments In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice (HSIS), and a keen fell run­ner, agrees: ‘A lower mus­cle con­tent and higher fat con­tent in the older run­ner’s body means fewer calo­ries are needed.’

‘Think about where you get your carbs from,’ says sports di­eti­tian Laura Clark ( lec­nu­tri­tion.co.uk). ‘ Yes, you could fuel a run with a hand­ful of jelly­beans. But whole­grain toast with peanut but­ter, or a ba­nana and a piece of cheese, would pack in more nu­tri­ents. Fruit, veg­eta­bles and dairy get over­looked as sources of car­bo­hy­drate. And they are also packed with vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants.’


‘Older run­ners have to fight to keep their mus­cle mass, as its de­cline is one of the first age-re­lated changes in body com­po­si­tion,’ says Rux­ton. This process – sar­cope­nia – be­gins around 40 and ac­cel­er­ates after the age of 75. ‘This makes pro­tein, and the nu­tri­ents that sup­port pro­tein syn­the­sis in the body – vi­ta­mins B6 and B12, C, fo­late and mag­ne­sium – es­sen­tial di­etary com­po­nents for the mas­ters run­ner.’

It’s not that you need more pro­tein than a younger run­ner – you just need to be vig­i­lant about get­ting it at each meal. ‘The key is spac­ing your in­take out over the course of a day,’ says Clark. As a bonus, pro­tein is the weight watcher’s friend, as it makes you feel fuller for longer, and mus­cle burns more calo­ries than fat.

Opt for real food sources: lean red meat (which also pro­vides iron, zinc and B vi­ta­mins, all use­ful for run­ners), chicken, fish, soya, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds. ‘Proper re­cov­ery is key, as your body doesn’t bounce back as quickly,’ says Clark. ‘So if you’re find­ing your mus­cles ache more be­tween work­outs, op­ti­mise re­fu­elling by tak­ing on food that of­fers 40g car­bo­hy­drate and 10g pro­tein within an hour of train­ing.’ Try beans on toast, ce­real with milk or a home­made fruit smoothie made with milk and a scoop of pro­tein pow­der.


Bone-min­eral den­sity is lost with age, es­pe­cially in women after the menopause, when os­teo­poro­sis be­comes a risk. ‘Cal­cium is the main bone min­eral,’ says Clark. ‘Meet your daily needs with a good in­take of dairy, tinned fish, pulses, prawns, dark-green leafy veg, nuts and seeds, and for­ti­fied non-dairy milks ( bear in mind that if it’s or­ganic, it can’t be for­ti­fied). To get the 200mg RDA (rec­om­mended daily al­lowance) of cal­cium, you need three serv­ings of dairy. That could be 200ml milk, 30g cheese or 150g yoghurt.’

Re­search shows omega-3 es­sen­tial fatty acids, found in oily fish and flaxseeds (and their oil), are good for joints, in­creas­ing lu­bri­ca­tion and act­ing as an anti-in­flam­ma­tory. The spice turmeric is also emerg­ing in re­search as a go-to in­gre­di­ent for ath­letes, thanks to its po­tent anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.


Ox­i­da­tion – the degra­da­tion of the fatty acids in cell walls – also in­creases with age. Be­cause an­tiox­i­dant ca­pac­ity is linked to en­durance per­for­mance, mas­ters run­ners can ben­e­fit from in­creas­ing their in­take of an­tiox­i­dants, in par­tic­u­lar vi­ta­min C (in cit­rus fruit) and se­le­nium (in Brazil nuts). The potas­sium, vi­ta­min C and ly­copene con­tent in toma­toes all sup­port heart health. High potas­sium in­takes are also as­so­ci­ated with pro­tec­tion against loss of mus­cle mass and preser­va­tion of bone­m­ineral den­sity. Con­cen­trated forms of toma­toes, such as pas­sata and juice, are par­tic­u­larly good sources of potas­sium.

‘Peo­ple in their 40s and 50s of­ten have bet­ter di­ets than younger peo­ple, but de­fi­cien­cies re­main, par­tic­u­larly in vi­ta­min D, which af­fects one in five adults in the UK,’ says Rux­ton. ‘And around half of adults don’t meet the rec­om­men­da­tion for se­le­nium, while in­takes of mag­ne­sium are low in 10-20 per cent of peo­ple.’

Our ex­perts agree that the best way to en­sure a broad spec­trum of vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants is to eat a var­ied and bal­anced diet, in­clud­ing a rain­bow of fruit and veg.

‘It would also be wise to take a daily mul­ti­vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ment as health in­sur­ance,’ says Rux­ton. ‘That way you’ll know you’re get­ting 100 per cent of your rec­om­mended daily al­lowance for the nu­tri­ents men­tioned and you’re un­likely to need sup­ple­ments.’

An ex­cep­tion to that might be an omega-3 sup­ple­ment. As well as the joint-health ben­e­fits, it may also help treat sar­cope­nia. A 2011 study in the Amer­i­can­jour­nalof­clin­i­cal Nutri­tion re­ported that when 16 healthy older adults were given corn oil or omega-3s for eight weeks, the omega-3 group showed in­creases in mus­cle for­ma­tion.

The last word is con­sis­tency: ‘Think about nutri­tion at ev­ery meal, par­tic­u­larly break­fast and lunch,’ says Clark. ‘Lots of peo­ple think they can cor­rect a bad day’s eat­ing with din­ner alone. To get that edge, this is what must change.’

TIN IT TO WIN IT Toma­toes are packed with heart-healthy an­tiox­i­dants

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