Masters athletes are a special breed. Most maintain full time jobs so they are either working out before the sun comes up or after it has set. Some even do doubles (2 workouts a day)! What drives us to do this in our 30s, 40s, and beyond? Depends. Sometimes its the love of a specific sport or activity (swimming in my case), some just want to be in the best physical shape they can, some are actually training for something (triathletes, marathoners), and I am sure there are a number of other reasons. No matter the reason, make no mistake – this group of athletes are ATHLETES!
I spoke at the United States Masters Swimming Clinic in Greensboro, NC back in September. When I was talking with an athlete about how she was going to eat as she planned to train for a long distance open water race that would take more than 10+ hrs to complete, she giggled when I referred to her as an athlete! Can you imagine!? Someone who wants to put their body through hours of physical torture, would be in extremely cold water to the point of needing to gain a significant amount of body fat for her core temperature to maintain itself, and has already experienced what it can be like when things go wrong having had a brutal experience in her last competition forcing her to be hospitalized for days after the race! Even if your not planning on doing anything that sounds that extreme, if your pretty consistently active give yourself some credit- you’re an athlete!
It doesn’t matter what age you are or what level you are competing at. You’ll hear me say it alot on this blog or in talks- what you put in your body is what you get out of it. And even if the goal of your physical activity is nothing more than to be healthy, fueling before and after you exercise is vital. Fueling is especially important as we age and continue to challenge ourselves and recovery times can begin to take longer (man have I experienced those longer recovery times lately!). The 20 or so swimmers at this clinic who ranged in age from 30’s to 60’s were training and competing regularly. This is the second year I have had a chance to work with this clinic that is hosted by the United States Masters Swimming Organization and the Triangle Sports Commission. Its a week long clinic that offers the athletes some of the most experienced masters coaches from around the country and brings in professionals in the fields of sports psychology, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, technique, resistance and flexibility training. Including, who I will refer to and those in the sport of swimming know as Dr G- Genadijus Sokalovas, who is both a Masters Coach and head of Global Sport Technology, an aquatics athlete testing and analytics company based in Colorado Springs, CO ( hes an amazing guy and has been involved in the sport of swimming in the US for a very long time).
So- now that you have some background on masters athletes and this clinic, here are some of the focal points as far as the physical and nutritional needs of these athletes. Masters athletes experience:
- a loss of skeletal muscle over time therefore a loss of strength,
- a decline in VO2max (This is a persons capacity to perform sustained exercise, this is generally considered one of the best indicators of cardiorespiratory endurance and aerobic fitness. Elite endurance athletes typically have a high VO2 max.),
- loss of bone mass therefore increased risk for injury,
- decreased metabolism,
- and other concerns such as menopause.
Through nutrition we are able to combat some of these issues. To date…research suggests that older athletes have no significantly different nutrition needs if they are healthy other than to optimize their sports diet so they’ll have every possible edge over younger folks. That being said here are a few pointers for you masters athletes out there that might be helpful:
- with a loss of muscle mass over time as we age it is important to maintain sufficient protein intake before, during, and after activity (most need to consume 15-30 grams pre and post activity, ie 3 oz of chicken is about 30 grams of protein and a tbsp of peanut butter is about 4 grams just for a reference)
- have balanced meals- that means carbohydrate, protein, and fat in every meal. Don’t go on one of these crazy diets restricting a food group and expect lasting results
- have reasonably sized meals- be prepared after a workout to be hungry and have a snack in your swim bag. Otherwise you will find yourself in a drive through line or overeating at the meal after that great workout you just had!
- try to consume frequent meals- meaning 5-6 small meals daily (the whole concept of only eating 3 meals a day is OVER!)
- drink fluids with every meal and in between them. The body is 60-65% water so drink up!
- a slight increase in fiber can help with gut motility (increased fiber = increased fluid needs)
- fruits and vegetables can help increase immune function and keep you healthy
- supplementation with vitamins and minerals may be necessary for healthy GI function (calcium, iron, zinc B6, and B12)
- calcium, vitamin D (sun), and stress on the skeleton can help avoid low bone density
No matter what your age- you can be an athlete!
*Thanks to Hill Carrow of the Triangle Sports Commission for getting me involved with this great clinic!