Must Eats for the Aging Athlete

Remember a time long ago (but doesn’t seem all that long ago) when you could eat and drink almost anything you wanted, and you didn’t gain a pound. That is, if you were athletic and taking care of your body daily and burning off the calories.

But now that you’re middle-aged or even older, you can’t just decide to stop at the Mcdonald's drive-through and order a supersized Big Mac meal without feeling sick to your stomach later on and putting on a pound or two overnight. Doesn’t matter how much you work out, be it by yourself or with a life coach, your metabolism isn’t what it used to be. Not by a long shot.

When you turn the corner on fifty, it’s time you started eating according to what your body needs and wants, not necessarily according to your cravings (although it’s okay to splurge once per week or so).

According to the medical experts at The Grand River Medical Sports Medicine Center, society as a whole is becoming more health-conscious than in past decades. People, especially athletes, are finding that they are living longer. Despite their age, they want to look and feel young.

Older adults who are experiencing body composition changes require strength and recovery from the foods they eat. That said, if you’re an athlete who’s over 50, you might want to read on.

Loss of Muscle Mass

The biological fact of the matter is that once you reach age 50, you begin to lose about one percent of lean body mass per year. This should concern you for several reasons, or so say the experts. Loss of body mass even at one percent per year means you are losing your physical functionality at one percent per year also.

For instance, you might not be able to do everyday things like make the bed, or lift your groceries like you once did. It can result in a loss of balance and stability, increasing your likelihood of falls.

So then, what can you do to preserve muscle mass aside from engaging in a cross-training fitness program?

Increase Your Protein Intake

In Western countries, there’s plenty of protein to go around. However, many older athletes still find themselves not taking in the amount they need for maximum recovery after workouts. Older persons don’t respond to protein ingestion like younger people do, which means they need to have more of it. Higher protein intake not only means stopping muscle mass loss in its tracks, but building mass.

Protein Quality is Paramount

Studies prove that soy protein is less effective than beef or whey protein when it comes to building much-needed muscle for older athletes. Despite soy containing a similar amino acid makeup as that of beef, the body processes it differently.

Soy digests slower beef. This can result in a shortfall of amino acid levels in the blood which means it will be less effective when stimulating muscle. If you’re planning on going vegan, you need to plan your meals carefully so that you don’t burn muscle during your workouts.

The Importance of Dairy

The importance of dairy products in your diet can’t be overstated. It contains an amino acid called Leucine, which the experts refer to as a “branch chain amino acid.” This is a potent stimulate of muscle building while maintaining your body’s existing lean muscle mass.

Just adding a cup of soy or cow milk to a meal can add an additional eight grams of protein. This move alone at breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be all the changes you need to make after turning the corner on 50 to make up for your muscle mass loss.

Also, keep in mind that dairy products contain calcium and vitamin D which will help in the prevention of osteoporosis which is a main concern for female athletes.

Maintaining a physically and emotionally sound body and mind is of vital importance as you age. But you also need to fuel it the right way, or your body mass will only break down without proper recovery.

GOOD EATS TIP: When you go grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store and purchase whole foods only that are high in fiber and high in protein. Your body will thank you for it in both the short and long run.

--Mary Clark is a recently retired and decorated Colonel in the New York State Troopers. One of the highest-ranking female law enforcement officials in New York State, she served for more than three decades. Today she devotes herself to helping others achieve their life goals through a combination of physical fitness, achieving an optimal mindset, and life balance.

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