Nutrition for the Master Athlete

Enhance Performance in Master Athletes—For Competition and General Fitness
It’s not just the banks of the Thames River that are swelling: the numbers of older people who are physically active is also taking over the land. Now, more than ever, older athletes are staying in the sport and even those who weren’t as active when younger are finding a new lease of life within Masters Track and Field.

What is a Masters Athlete?
Nope its not, that we literally are Masters of Athletics, but rather that we have now reached a certain age. The ripe old age at which one can be considered a “masters” athlete varies from sport to sport. For example, any golfer or bowler over the age of 50 years old is classified as a master’s athlete, whereas participants in sports like ours ‘Athletics’ are considered masters-level athletes once they pass their 35th birthday!
Age-graded competition; categories are usually set in 5-year intervals so that a 84-year-old male is not in the same award category as his 35-year-old counterparts.
How Does Aging Affect Fitness?
Unlike fine wines and cheeses aging is nowhere near as beneficial for us mere humans, as it tends to negatively affect physical performance. As our bodies age, there is a decline in cardiovascular functioning, respiratory ability and musculoskeletal strength. Research has shown that between the ages of 25 and 85, resting stroke volume, maximum heart rate and VO2 max all decline at a rate of approximately 10% per decade (Downes 2002). Mine was never high to begin with; I can’t afford to keep loosing it!
Good news is that being consistently physical activity can offset some of the detrimental effects of aging. Even more hopeful, exercise has the added benefit of increasing our psychological well-being, decreasing the risk of chronic disease and reducing overall mortality rates relative to age (Rosenbloom 2006).

Nutrition for the Master Athlete
All athletes, regardless of age, need to consume adequate energy to participate in their sport and to perform the activities of daily living. However, compared with our younger counterparts, older athletes typically require less energy for weight maintenance. Evidence suggests that an athlete’s overall energy needs decline with age, probably because of a decrease in lean body mass (resulting in an overall drop in resting metabolic rate) and a reduction in training volume. That said, this evidence does not take into account individuals who remain active as they enter their golden years. So of course, being subjective about your own lean mass is crucial to adjusting your dietary needs correctly.
It would be safe to say that while the energy needs of masters athletes are likely lower than those of younger competitors, senior athletes still have higher needs than their peers who remain sedentary (Campbell & Geik 2004). To consume the appropriate fuel to balance their energy expenditure and still maintain a healthy weight, master athletes need to pay close attention to their energy intake and food choices.
Macronutrients for the Master Athlete
The diet of any older athlete should follow the guidelines set forth by the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board (Campbell & Geik 2004; Rosenbloom 2006). These guidelines commonly referred to as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), rely on the following distribution of nutrients:
40% of energy from carbohydrate40% of energy from protein20% of energy from fat
Most athletes require a diet high in carbohydrates, and Master’s Athletes are no different. Older athletes retain the abilities to store ingested carbohydrate as glycogen in the liver and muscles; to use glycogen as a source of fuel during exercise; and to recover muscle glycogen levels following exercise (Campbell & Geik 2004). Therefore, master athletes require a DRI of 5–7 grams per kilogram per day (g/kg/day) for general fitness training (such as performing moderate-intensity exercise for less than 1 hour per day or several hours of low-intensity exercise). For athletes with a higher training load (volume and intensity), 7–10 g/kg/day should suffice (Rosenbloom 2006).
Because fat is very calorically dense (9 calories per gram)(and lets be honest it tends to be including in all our lovely deserts we like as we age, well it is for me anyway), it can be an excellent source of fuel. However, an older athlete’s fat intake should not be excessive; it should stay within the acceptable macronutrient distribution range of 20%–35% of total energy. Furthermore, older athletes should be sure to include essential fatty acids in their daily allotment of energy from fat. The IOM recommends 14 grams per day (g/day) of omega-6 fatty acids for older men and 11 g/day for older women. The intake guidelines for omega-3 fatty acids are 1.6 g/day for older men and 1.1 g/day for older women (Rosenbloom 2006).
Studies suggest how much protein is needed for active older adults to build and maintain muscle for optimal health.
Older athletes need more protein than their younger counterparts. At one time, that would have been considered a controversial statement, but many experts now consider it a fact. Previously, it was believed that high protein intake resulted in bone loss and strained the kidneys, both especially risky for older people. Now it’s been shown that more protein benefits bone health, and getting enough protein is as important as getting enough calcium and vitamin D.1,2 Higher protein intakes, of up to 35% of daily calories, pose a risk to older people only when they already suffer from some type of kidney function impairment.
For practical purposes, senior athletes should aim for a protein intake similar to that of their younger competitors. Endurance athletes should get 1.2–1.4 g/kg/day of protein, whereas those involved in resistance training should aim for as much as 1.7 g/kg/day (Campbell & Geik 2004; Rosenbloom 2006; ADA 2009).
Keep in mind, protein utilization will not occur without adequate amounts of energy. Athletes who eat poorly, with insufficient energy and carbohydrate intake, and athletes in beginning stages of training need more protein to maintain their nitrogen balance. Furthermore, senior athletes who consume a low-calorie diet (typically 2,000 or fewer calories per day) must carefully monitor their overall nutrient intake to ensure that they are consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrate and protein. A low-calorie diet may not provide the macronutrients needed to achieve optimal carbohydrate stores, repair muscles and fuel the training load.
Because the effects of dehydration (even modest dehydration) can be detrimental to any physical performance, proper fluid intake is vital for all athletes. Older competitors are more susceptible to dehydration than their younger counterparts, because age causes physiological changes to thirst sensations, sweating rates, and fluid and electrolyte status, as well as blood flow changes that impair thermoregulation. Older athletes experience a natural decrease in renal function, which causes an increase in water output by the kidneys; they also have a delayed sweating response and a decreased perception of thirst, which often leads to insufficient fluid intake over time.
Master athletes should begin training sessions well hydrated, consuming copious amounts of fluid in the 24 hours prior to training, including 14–22 ounces in the 2–3 hours immediately before training (Campbell & Geik 2004). To reduce fluids lost during exercise, older athletes should ingest 6–12 ounces of fluid every 15–20 minutes during each training session, starting from the very beginning of the bout. After each session, senior athletes should drink an additional 16–24 ounces of fluid for each pound lost during exercise (Campbell & Geik 2004). Because athletes should recover glycogen stores immediately following training, an excellent choice for both hydration and energy recovery is a sports drink that contains carbohydrates and electrolytes.
American Dietetic Association (ADA), Dietitians of Canada (DC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). 2009. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109 (3), 509–27.
Campbell, W.W., & Geik, R.A. 2004. Nutritional considerations for the older athlete. Nutrition, 20, 603–608.
Downes, J.W. 2002. The master’s athlete: Defying aging. Topics in Clinical Chiropractic, 9 (2), 53–59.
Lichtenstein, A.H., et al. 2006. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation, 114, 82–96.
Niedert, K.C. 2001. Consultant Dietitians in Health Care Facilities Pocket Resource for Nutrition Assessment, 2001 Revision. Chicago: ADA.
Rosenbloom, C.A. 2006. Masters athletes. In M. Dunford (Ed.), Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals (4th ed., pp. 269–82). Chicago: ADA.

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