Older athletes can continue to participate in fitness or sport as they get older! In fact, I recommend it.
Thankfully, getting older doesn’t mean getting sedentary. In fact, it is really important to keep moving so you can be healthy, fit, mobile, and maintain your ability to participate in life in meaningful ways!
The oldest person athlete to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics is 50 years old, Canadian curler Cheryl Bernard. To celebrate her 50th birthday, she went on an 8-hour hike with her husband. She wasn’t the only older athlete participating in the Winter Games either. There was a 45-year-old Japanese ski jumper, Noriaki Kasai and a 45-year-old speed skater from Germany, Claudia Pechstein. Pretty incredible, right?
It’s not only at the Olympics where you will find the “mature” athlete competing in athletic endeavors. There is the 79-year-old CrossFitter, Jacinto Bonilla, who not only trains but coaches other athletes in his Brooklyn-based home gym. And have you heard of the “Iron Nun”, Madonna Buder? She is 87 years old and is the oldest person to have completed a triathlon.
So when it comes to nutrition, are the needs of the older athlete the same as their younger peers? First of all, the nutrition needs for any athlete needs to be customized, regardless of age!
Considerations for the older athlete:
- Nutrition: Older athletes may tend to undereat because they think that their metabolism slows as they age. What’s most important is that the intake of macronutrients and micronutrients is supporting the level of activity of the athlete’s sport! An Olympic curler is likely to have very different needs than an older athlete competing in a triathlon. Increased protein for the aging athlete will help with maintaining and gaining muscle as well as buffering the overall aging process.
- Medications: As we get older, more prescription medications may be on board. Some medications have specific food interactions (i.e. grapefruit) or specific foods should be avoided (high sodium if the athlete has hypertension) because of the diagnosis itself. Ensure you are aware of any possible interactions or contraindications.
- Hydration: The older athlete has less body water so it is even more important to stay hydrated. The thirst sensation can diminish as we age so it is important to monitor water intake, especially during hot and humid conditions. Aging kidneys lose efficiency which means more water is needed to remove waste.
- Physiological changes: There are more GI, cardiac, bone, and muscle effects on the aging body of the older athlete and we become less resilient with age. Less resilient doesn’t mean we can’t be active or even compete, we just may not be able to compete at the same level we did when we were 20-40 years younger.
- Sleep: 7-10 hours of sleep is recommended. If you can’t get 7-10 straight hours, take naps. Sleep is an essential part of the recovery process. As we age it becomes even more important for recovery.
- Recovery: Aging itself may lead to more exercise-induced damage or fatigue which makes for a longer recovery period. The aging skeletal muscle experiences greater exercise-induced fatigue or damage and has a slower rate of repair and recovery from this fatigue or damage.
- Training: Intensity and volume of training will need to be reduced to maintain longevity in any sport. Our ability to take on training is diminished, but we can still make gains if training properly. Older athletes should train strength, balance, coordination, and reaction time to stave off the effects of aging.
- Performance: Take time to properly warm up for your sport and cool down to minimize injury. It is possible to get stronger, get faster, and improve your athletic performance as an older athlete. Improvements may not come as often, or the jumps may not be as significant, but they can still happe Cheryl Bernard, 50-year old/caption]