It is impossible to overstate how important nutrition is when it comes to training and healing. And, while PTs are educated on and can help with the basics of nutrition, it's not our area of expertise. So we teamed up with two local experts: Registered Dietitians, and friends of Zenith-PNW, Shira Evans, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Taryn Hand, MS, RD, CSSD, LD to help educate you on specific areas of Nutrition that are extra important for the Faster Master Athlete.
Shira and Taryn each wrote amazing, in-depth articles for you all, so take your time and work through each of their articles. You'll notice they mention several overlapping topics and nutrients, but then also bring up some separate, important aspects of nutrition.
Also, make sure to head to their websites: https://shiraevansrd.com/ and https://nutritionbyhand.com/ to read their full bios and learn how to work directly with them on your (and your family's) nutritional needs.
(disclaimer: as always, blog articles are meant for informational and entertainment purposes, not as prescriptive medical advice, consult with your rehab or relevant healthcare professional for specific guidance).
Shira Evans, MS, RD, CSSD, LD.
Shira is a Registered Dietician that works with Individuals, Groups, and Teams through her practice. Take a few minutes to check out her website and find out more details about her and her services here: https://shiraevansrd.com/ or by contacting her at 541-632-3738.
The goal of participating in sport through your lifespan doesn’t have to be an aspiration – it can be a reality. It is well recognized that all human bodies change through one’s lifespan. By accepting this, and honoring its evolving nutritional needs, a person has a greater likelihood of maintaining their health and involvement in movement that feels good. The following information offers key nutritional considerations to support the aging athlete.
Changes in Muscle Mass
Aging is associated with a loss of lean muscle mass and strength. To minimize potential strength losses, it is helpful for master’s athletes to increase their net daily protein intake shortly after engaging in sport. There is mounting literature to support that timing and distribution of protein throughout the day is important to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in older adults. Prior research has shown that younger, active individuals may need 20-30 grams of protein/meal to stimulate MPS, but older athletes may need 35-40 grams of protein/meal/day to stimulate MPS. The inclusion of proteins that offer a higher biological value, such as dairy, eggs, and animal protein (beef, fish, chicken, etc.) is desirable. If plant-based proteins are consumed, it is generally recommended for a person to consume a greater volume of it to match a net-positive protein balance.
Another benefit of including sources of animal protein into an aging person’s intake is that some animal proteins offer a robust amount of vitamin B12. As a person ages, the body’s ability to efficiently absorb this vitamin declines. Thoughtfulness around increasing dietary sources of B12 may be helpful. Food sources such as milk, clams, egg yolks, and beef are excellent sources of vitamin B12.
Although loss of lean muscle mass may slow metabolic rate, the thought to reduce daily energy intake of a Masters athlete may not be warranted to support weight and health maintenance. As people age, hormones that regulate appetite also change. A normal aging response is a reduction in perceived appetite. For older athletes who are participating in planned activity, they benefit from spreading adequate energy through their entire day, and not dieting. Skipped or inadequate meals and snacks may have a deleterious impact on lean muscle mass.
Supporting Bone Health
Bone loss is associated with the aging process. Prioritizing bone-building nutrients throughout the day, every day, may prevent bone-related injuries and allow for regular engagement in sport. A focus of calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium, in conjunction with adequate daily calories and protein support bone integrity. It should be noted that aging decreases the skin’s ability to create the active form of vitamin D. Without vitamin D, only 10-15% of calcium is absorbed. Therefore, daily vitamin D supplementation of 1500-2000 IU is suggested for athletes 60 years and older, and/or if there is a history of stress or bone-related injuries.
Focus on Fluids
Another concern for the aging athletic population is dehydration. Aging causes physiological changes to sweat rates, thirst perception, kidney health, and fluid/electrolyte balance. Further, some medications commonly used by older adults impact hydration status. Therefore, Masters athletes may benefit from utilizing a hydration schedule, to support euhydration (optimal hydration), especially around training times. Drinking to thirst may promote under-hydration, and further increase injury risk and declines in performance. Older athletes should prioritize non-caffeinated fluids, daily. Generally, they should aim to consume a baseline of half their body weight in ounces of fluid, sip 8 ounces of fluid for every 15-20 minutes during planned activity, and sip 16 ounces of fluid for every pound of sweat loss they experience from activity.
The Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
For many aging individuals, joint stiffness and arthritis are a concern. Prior literature demonstrates that increased inclusion of omega-3 foods or supplementation may help to reduce perceived joint pain and stiffness and improve joint mobility. Further, prolonged supplementation of omega-3 fats in healthy older adults has been shown to increase rates of muscle protein synthesis and therefore, may help to preserve muscle health. Older adults should aim to consume 3-5 grams/day of omega-3 fats. This may be achieved most readily with the inclusion of a daily third-party certified supplement and a few servings of fish/seafood consumed weekly.
Evidence is strong that older adults can maintain an active lifestyle and can continue to participate in sports throughout the aging process. By developing a daily nutritional pattern that is consistent, and optimizing the intake of the aforementioned areas of concern, a Masters athlete can support their health and success in sport.
Oikawa, S.Y., et al. (2022). Application of sports nutrition to healthy aging. Sports Sci Exch, 35(224): 1-6.
Karpinski, C. and Rosenbloom, C.A. (2017). Sports Nutrition. A Handbook for Professionals (6th Edition). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Desbrow, B., et al. (2019). Nutrition for special populations: Young, female, and masters athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exe, 29(2): 220-227.
Strasser, B., et al. (2021). Nutrition for older athletes: Focus on sex-differences. Nutrients, 13(5): 1-34.
Taryn Hand, MS, RD, CSSD, LD.
Taryn is a Registered Dietician that works with Individuals through her practice- Nutrition by Hand. Take a few minutes to check out her website and find out more details about her and her services here: https://nutritionbyhand.com/ or by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nutrition Considerations for the Masters Athlete
Masters athletes comprise a wide range of ages, previous athletic experience and overall health and performance goals. Many changes occur in the body as we age, as has been discussed in previous posts. Nutrition can impact and even slow some of these changes, namely the loss of muscle and bone mass, keeping you active and healthy long into the later stages of life.
Research shows that muscle mass decreases by 3-8% per decade after the age of 30. This loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia. However, staying active in older years can slow the decline of muscle mass, especially if you are including regular strength training in your routine. This is good news for staying active long term and reducing injury risk.
Macronutrients & Eating Patterns
First, let’s review some of the basics of fueling that don’t change regardless of your age. One, being the importance of eating consistently throughout the day. Oftentimes this is easier said than done when you take into account challenges like access to food, work schedule, and other time and life demands. This means aiming for at least 3 meals and 1-3 snacks throughout the day to keep fuel stores topped off and energy levels high throughout the day as well as promoting recovery after exercise. A good guideline to aim for with meals is including a source of carbohydrate, protein, fat and produce or fiber at each meal and including at least two components with snacks (for example, carbohydrate and protein or carbohydrate and fat). Next, we’ll review the macronutrients and sources of them.
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy and endurance athletes have higher requirements for carbohydrates based on the energy demands on the body. Carbohydrate sources include rice, bread, pasta, tortillas, potatoes, oatmeal and cereal.
Protein is important for muscle growth and development, repair and healing from injury as well as for the immune system. Protein needs increase as we age to maintain and prevent muscle loss. Masters athletes may need at least 1.2 g/kg of protein per day. It’s recommended to space protein intake out consistently throughout the day, aiming for at least 20-30g of protein per meal and at least 10-15g of protein with snacks. Sources of protein include chicken, fish, eggs, beef, pork, dairy (or soy products), nuts/nut butters, tofu/tempeh, beans and lentils.
Fats are important for a variety of functions in the body, including vitamin absorption, hormone synthesis, cell growth and development and many others. Fats also enhance flavor and satiety. Sources of fats include oils, avocado, nuts/seeds and full fat dairy products.
Hydration is also important to mention as decreased thirst perception can change as we age. Fluid needs will depend on a number of factors, including activity level, environmental conditions and more, but drinking fluids throughout the day along with regular meals and snacks (which contain electrolytes) is a good starting place. For longer endurance events, having a hydration (and fueling) plan in place is important.
Bone Health & Micronutrients
Bone health is important for all athletes, but especially master’s athletes as fall and injury risk increase as we age. For women, menopause decreases estrogen which is important for bone health and strength. The main micronutrients of interest are calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is required for building and maintaining strong bones. Calcium needs increase as we age: for men 51-70 years old the recommendation is 1000mg per day and increases to 1200mg over the age of 71. Women 50 years and older are recommended to consume 1200mg per day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, dark leafy vegetables, fish with bones (ex, salmon), and tofu/soy products. In order to absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D but our bodies can synthesize it when exposed to UV light. Living in the Pacific Northwest, especially in winter, can make it challenging to get enough vitamin D. Aging can cause a decreased ability to make vitamin D due to skin changes. More and more research is showing many people have insufficient vitamin D levels so it can be beneficial to look into supplementation. Food sources of vitamin D include salmon with bones, egg yolks and fortified dairy products.
Before recommending or taking supplements it’s best to get blood work done and review with your doctor and/or a sports dietitian to ensure it is needed and safe. Many masters athletes may be taking medications and some supplements may interact with medications so it’s best to check before adding in a supplement.
In conclusion, many of the nutrition basics do not change for older adults including the need for regular meals and snacks which include a balance and variety of macro and micronutrients. Eating consistently throughout the day, with some attention to protein, hydration, calcium and vitamin D, can help keep you active and running throughout your older years.
Desbrow B, Burd NA, Tarnopolsky M, Moore DR, Elliott-Sale KJ. Nutrition for Special . Populations: Young, Female and Masters Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019 Mar 1; 29(2): 220-227 doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0269. Epub 2019 Feb 15.
Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004 Jul; 7(4): 405-410 doi: 10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2.
Strasser B, Pesta D, Rittweger J, Burtscher J, Burtscher M. Nutrition for Older Athletes: Focus on Sex-Differences. Nutrients. 2021; 13(5), 1409 https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051409.
Tarnopolsky MA. Nutritional consideration in the aging athlete. Clin J Sport Med. 2008 Nov; 18(6): 531-538 doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e318187ac44.
(bike photo credit: @olhausenphotography)
There you have it. It's a lot to chew on (...get it?). Do feel free to reach out to Shira and Taryn with questions about the articles or with questions regarding their services and how they can help take your training, performance, and wellness to the next level!
Or, contact us to learn more about how we may help you or your friends/family members reach their goals.