Keeping Up with Aging: How Nutrition Can Enhance Your Physical Performance as an Older Athlete
What you’ll learn: In this blog, we will discuss the natural changes your body goes through as you age, how it impacts your performance as an athlete, and dive into which nutritional steps you can take to help keep you active and competitive as an older athlete.
By: Heidi Harris, RD-N, LD-N, CD-N
Have you noticed hitting your personal bests in your 30s, 40s, or 50s isn’t coming as naturally or frequently as it used to when you were in your 20s? That’s normal and part of the natural aging process. Typically, most people start to lose efficiency in their aerobic capacity and drop in peak performance starting in their 30s.1 As we age, our recovery efficiency between workouts, competitions and overall physical performance slows. Not to mention, bone mass declines and the risk of physical injury becomes more prevalent.
To continue with our healthy dose of reality, our muscles become less responsive to the anabolic effects of protein and exercise as we age. This is often referred to as anabolic resistance or anabolic blunting. This may be part of why building muscle as we age gets harder. Which, conversely, is also why it’s important to focus on muscle gain during training. Some research suggests this slowdown of the anabolic effect partially regulates protein synthesis signaling.2
Luckily, with an appropriate combination of strategic physical training and nutrition interventions, you may help limit age-related declines in performance to keep you performing at your optimal best and keep you competing for longer.
How Nutrition Helps Aging Athletes
As our bodies change with age, so do our nutritional needs. As I mentioned a little earlier, our muscle mass naturally declines as we age, so we are going to discuss three critical areas you can focus on as an athlete to help keep up with the competition amongst younger athletes.
This may not sound like a change from what you’re already doing. However, given that with age, your muscles become less responsive to the anabolic (or process of building muscle mass) effect of protein and exercise, research has found that eating more protein helps curb the potential for natural age-related muscle mass loss.
Research suggests that in comparison to younger athletes, older athletes should aim for approximately 1.2 – 1.5 grams of protein intake per kilogram of body weight per day to offset this muscle mass depletion and help maintain roughly 40% more muscle mass compared to those who may not have a lean protein-rich diet.3 This recommendation is considerably higher for protein intake than that of a more youthful athlete.
Sources of lean protein that may provide 20 – 25 grams of protein per serving include white fish like cod, haddock, halibut, tilapia and bass.4 Dairy, like plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, is another great source of lean protein. Did you know plain Greek yogurt provides 15-20 grams of protein per serving?5 It’s a perfect option for a protein-filled snack!
White meat poultry is another optimal lean protein source – a 3.5 oz. serving of white chicken or turkey can provide 30 grams of protein.6 90% lean beef can provide a whopping 24 grams of protein per serving!7
Looking for additional support to help meet that 1.2 – 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day? Klean Athlete is an NSF certified for sport and our Klean Isolate provides 20 grams of protein per scoop. Not to mention, it comes in various flavors – now, that’s efficient!
While protein gets a lot of love in the fitness and nutrition world, I’m here to remind you about your friend, carbohydrates. Research over the years has consistently pointed to carbohydrates as a vital energy source for high-intensity performance.
Carbohydrates are the primary macronutrient for sustaining and improving physical performance. In fact, it’s been found that athletes who purposefully restrict energy intake or eliminate certain food groups from their diet (such as carbohydrates) fall short of meeting their nutritional requirements, ultimately impacting their overall performance.8
Competitive athletes have increased carbohydrate needs in order to replenish their glycogen stores. When an athlete participates in consistent and strenuous physical performance, glycogen stores become depleted and as an athlete gets older, it takes longer to replenish those stores and recover. That’s why while carbohydrate needs are individually specific, research has found that an athlete who heavily participates in a vigorous activity greater than 4 hours per day needs approximately 8 – 12 grams of high-quality carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day.8, 9
Carbohydrates go beyond just glycogen store replenishment. There are different types of carbohydrates and each impacts your physical performance differently. For example, rapidly absorbed carbohydrates have been found to enter an athlete’s bloodstream faster, helping support exercise intensity and duration. As we age, our stamina and endurance may decrease; therefore, we rapidly release carbohydrates to help support our energy needs while performing.10 Meanwhile, complex carbohydrate consumption in the hours after exercise helps replenish glycogen stores to help nourish and aid your body as it recovers.8, 11
Struggling to meet your carbohydrate needs for optimal recovery? Klean Recovery provides a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein to help support glycogen re-synthesis and muscle protein synthesis immediately after a workout.‡
For this next section, when I’m talking about hydration, I’m talking about both water and electrolytes.
Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium help balance the amount of water in your body while also balancing the electrical gradients for your heart, nerves, muscles and brain to help support optimal function during performance.12‡
I’m looking at you, the older athletes who cramp up during pivotal competitions in your athletic career!
Have you ever had sweat drip into your mouth while exercising? That salty taste is a mix of electrolytes and loss of hydration. You’ve probably heard you need to replenish whatever you’ve lost in hydration from sweat. Well, it’s more than just replenishing what you’ve lost and it’s much more individualized.
As we age, our perception of thirst decreases, as does our sweat rate and the ability of our kidneys to concentrate urine. As discussed earlier, muscle mass (which stores water) naturally decreases in your 30s. All this can lead to dehydration amongst competitive athletes and all the more reason why increasing your hydration intake is important for competitive aging athletes.13
When it comes to rehydrating post-exercise, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. An athlete’s individual factors such as age, sweat rate and overall health, affect hydration status. The general rule of thumb for supporting proper hydration for athletes consists of hydrating more than 16 oz. 2 – 3 hours before exercise and another 8 oz. at least 15 minutes before competition or exercise. During training or competition, it’s recommended to hydrate enough to limit dehydration to less than 2% body weight loss. Finally, it’s also recommended to measure how much fluid an athlete has lost during exercise and to drink approximately 16 – 24 oz. of water for every pound of body weight lost.14
Our Klean Hydration offers 6% carbohydrates with additional minerals to replace fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat during physical activity. Meanwhile, our Klean Electrolytes replenish important minerals in the body during or after exercise in an easy-to-dose capsule form. As hydration needs are individualized to the athlete, our Klean Athlete® products are easily customizable to meet individual training and performance needs.‡
Beta-Alanine and Its Impacts on the Aging Athlete
It’s time we switch gears and focus on beta-alanine and carnosine.
Let’s rewind to the concept that we become less efficient at recovering from physical activity as we age. Ever felt that muscle burn post-exercise? The process of converting glucose to energy in muscles (tapping into those glycogen stores) produces lactic acid. This then gets broken down into its building blocks, lactate and hydrogen. You can thank those pesky hydrogen ions in your muscles for causing that muscle fatigue and discomfort.15, 16
Beta-alanine is used to make carnosine, which buffers the hydrogen ions, a byproduct of physical exercise.16 More carnosine delays the “burn,” enabling you to sustain intense efforts and train more effectively. Some research has found support for overall performance in older adults, such as supporting physical work capacity and delaying the onset of neuromuscular fatigue.18, 19‡
So, you’re probably wondering, why aren’t we supplementing with carnosine instead of beta-alanine? Carnosine is degraded in the digestive tract into its building blocks, beta-alanine and histidine. In muscles, beta-alanine is in short supply, so supplementing with beta-alanine results in a higher concentration of carnosine than supplementing with carnosine directly.17
Our Klean SR Beta-Alanine is meant for athletes training at high intensities, such as sprint and strength/power athletes whose performance is limited by acid buildup. Our Klean SR Beta-Alanine delays fatigue and supports muscle endurance and exercise capacity during short periods of intense effort. This allows you the opportunity to train harder, stronger and more effectively.‡
Keeping Consistent as an Athlete as You Age
As an athlete, it’s never too early to start planning your nutritional needs to help support your future physical performance, understanding how your body changes and how that impacts your nutrient needs and diet. Healthy nutrition, proper hydration and understanding what macronutrients are impacted by your changing needs are just a few ways you can prepare to help remain competitive and consistent during your athletic career. Klean Athlete® has done its due diligence and offers various products to support your unique nutritional needs as you age.‡
- Mitchell, W. K. et. al (2012). Sarcopenia, Dynapenia, and the Impact of Advancing Age on Human Skeletal Muscle Size and Strength; a Quantitative Review. Frontiers in Physiology, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2012.00260
- Kumar, V., et. al, (2009). Age-related differences in the dose-response relationship of muscle protein synthesis to resistance exercise in young and old men. The Journal of Physiology, 587(1), 211–217. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2008.164483
- Witard, O. C., et. al. (2016). Growing older with health and vitality: a nexus of physical activity, exercise and nutrition. Biogerontology, 17(3), 529–546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-016-9637-9
- FoodData Central. USDA. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/175177/nutrients
- Desai, N. T., et, al. (2013). Sensory properties and drivers of liking for Greek yogurts. Journal of Dairy Science, 96(12), 7454–7466. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2013-6973
- FoodData Central. USDA. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1098445/nutrients
- FoodData Central. USDA. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171790/nutrients
- Kanter, M. (2018). High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance. Nutrition Today, 53(1), 35–39. https://doi.org/10.1097/nt.0000000000000238
- Havemann L, et al. Fat adaptation followed by carbohydrate loading compromises high-intensity sprint performance. J Appl Physiol. 2006;100:194–202.
- Keep Your Energy As You Age. https://www.rush.edu/news/keep-your-energy-you-age
- Little JP, et al. Effect of low- and high-glycemic-index meals on metabolism and performance during high-intensity, intermittent exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010;20(6):447–456.
- Fluid and Electrolyte Balance. (n.d.). Medlineplus.gov. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from https://medlineplus.gov/fluidandelectrolytebalance.
- Meade, R. D., et al. (2020). Ageing attenuates the effect of extracellular hyperosmolality on whole‐body heat exchange during exercise‐heat stress. The Journal of Physiology, 598(22), 5133–5148. https://doi.org/10.1113/jp280132
- United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Nutrition & Hydration. (n.d.). Www.usopc.org. https://www.usopc.org/nutrition
- Dunnett M, et al. Influence of oral beta-alanine and L-histidine supplementation on the carnosine content of the gluteus medius. Equine Vet J Suppl 1999;30:499-504.
- Harris R, et al. The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 2006;30(3):279-289.
- Giannini Artioli, et al. (2009). The Role of β-alanine Supplementation on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3181c74e38
- McCormack W, et al. Exp Gerontol 2013;48(9):933-939.
- Stout J, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008;5:21.
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