NU­TRI­TION AND THE MA­TURE TRIATH­LETE

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Fuel Nutrition - BY PIP TAY­LOR

It’s no se­cret that en­durance sports, triathlon in­cluded, are kinder to slightly older ath­letes than some other sports. Proof of that comes not just from the pro ranks, which boast ath­letes in their late 30s and even 40s, but by the su­per com­pet­i­tive, hard rac­ers nudg­ing into their 50s, 60s and be­yond. This is be­cause the sport re­quires grit, men­tal for­ti­tude and stam­ina, as op­posed to pure speed, out­right strength or fast-footed agility that you see in other sports, such as swim­ming, gym­nas­tics, team sports and sprint­ing.

Al­though ma­tur­ing ath­letes might ex­cel and con­tinue to see im­prove­ments, there is no get­ting around that age does take its toll on per­for­mance and phys­i­cal­ity. With good nu­tri­tion, cor­rect train­ing and some good ge­net­ics, though, you can mit­i­gate, or slow, some of these de­clines.

As we age, we ex­pe­ri­ence a nat­u­ral de­cline in mus­cle mass – in fact, af­ter the age of 30, with­out ad­e­quate train­ing and nu­tri­tion, we start to lose mus­cle on a daily ba­sis. A loss of mus­cle mass, ul­ti­mately, also leads to a slump in strength and power out­put. Even more alarm­ing is that, as young as 25, our max­i­mal VO2 and aer­o­bic power also starts to slide. But be­fore you throw in the towel and give up chas­ing that PB, the heart­en­ing news is that much of this slide in phys­i­cal prow­ess is ac­tu­ally sim­ply due to dis­use rather than ag­ing it­self. In other words, in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, ag­ing tends to sig­nal a slow­ing down – an in­cli­na­tion to pre­fer to rest up a lit­tle more, rather than push the train­ing vol­ume. Or put more sim­ply – use it or lose it. This also ex­plains the ripped physiques ac­com­pa­ny­ing those hard rac­ers in the more ma­ture age groups – they are the ones that have re­fused to slow down, show­ing that it is in­deed pos­si­ble to re­tain fit­ness, strength and mus­cle mass as you age, even if max­i­mal power and speed do slow.

Nu­tri­tion is a key com­po­nent to get the most from your body, no mat­ter your age. There are a few sub­tle di­etary changes that are im­por­tant and will help sus­tain ath­letic suc­cess well into your twi­light years.

Up the pro­tein: Pro­tein has been shown to be crit­i­cal for not just build­ing but re­tain­ing lean mus­cle mass, with a higher pro­tein re­quire­ment for older ath­letes than their younger coun­ter­parts. At the same time, caloric needs de­crease slightly, even at the same work­load. This means that it is crit­i­cal that calo­ries con­sumed are from nu­tri­ent­dense sources that add to func­tion and health, as op­posed to “empty” calo­ries.

Re­cov­ery is king: As we ma­ture, we don’t re­cover as well as in our youth. This might mean that train­ing pro­grams need to be adapted, with more time be­tween hard ses­sions, but your nu­tri­tion can also give you a help­ing hand. To max­i­mize train­ing adap­ta­tions, op­ti­mize re­cov­ery and help main­tain mus­cle mass, fuel up with car­bo­hy­drates and pro­tein im­me­di­ately post-work­out.

Hy­drate: When it comes to race day, as well as key work­outs, keep in mind that with a de­crease in lean mus­cle mass, to­tal body wa­ter is lower. Our nat­u­ral thirst sen­sa­tion can also de­crease with age, which makes hy­dra­tion and fluid re­place­ment a ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially when train­ing or rac­ing in the heat. You may need to be more dis­ci­plined in drink­ing to a plan rather than just be­ing guided by thirst alone. As for ev­ery ath­lete, re­place fluid lost dur­ing train­ing/rac­ing with 1.5 times that amount as soon as pos­si­ble. And, when it comes to heat, older ath­letes are also slower to ac­cli­ma­tize and more sus­cep­ti­ble to detri­men­tal ef­fects of heat on per­for­mance. Take this into con­sid­er­a­tion when plan­ning race sched­ules and race-day nu­tri­tion plans.

Tick off the es­sen­tials: Get plenty of whole grains, fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts and qual­ity fats and pro­teins – not just for op­ti­mal phys­i­cal per­for­mance, but more cog­ni­tive func­tion and gen­eral well­be­ing.

Some spe­cific vi­ta­mins and min­er­als are re­quired in larger amounts:

• Rec­om­mended cal­cium in­takes are slightly higher (1,200 mg per day for 51 years plus as op­posed to 1,000 mg for 19 to 50 year olds, and may be even higher for menopausal ath­letes) to main­tain bone health. Three to four serv­ings of dairy per day (or cal­cium-for­ti­fied foods) should meet these needs.

• Vi­ta­mins D and B12 needs can also be el­e­vated due to de­creased gut ab­sorp­tion (gut func­tion also slowly de­clines as we get older). While it should be pos­si­ble to ob­tain all mi­cronu­tri­ents in suf­fi­cient quan­tity if you are eat­ing well, if caloric needs are re­duced (as they can be with age) then de­fi­cien­cies can quickly sneak up. If in doubt, speak to your health-care provider and ask whether any tests are war­ranted.

Pip Tay­lor is a pro triath­lete and nu­tri­tion­ist from Aus­tralia.

Eggs are a great way to in­cor­po­rate healthy and nu­tri­ent-rich pro­tien into your diet

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