There is no more powerful anti-ageing drug than fitness and health. Now that we're here, all we have to do is work hard to stay here.
1. Go to the gym and lift.
This is not an option but a necessity for maintaining strength and power. You will lose muscle fibres as you get older. It's a fact and, before you've even given it a thought, that process has already begun. In fact, it starts when we are in our 20's, back when we thought we had lots of time; we thought we were in the prime of our lives. The only way to avoid losing strength and power as muscle fibres die off is to do some heavy lifting to increase power capacity of all those muscle fibres we have left. The benefits will extend to improved skeletal strength and density as well. Do the work and you will be rewarded with stronger muscles and bones. Stronger muscles will allow you to continue to swim, bike and run with power as you age.
2. Eat well.
Food is your fuel so in order to fuel your body well. As much and as often as possible, we should choose nutrient-dense food. There's not much more that I can add that you haven't already heard and you already know most of it so I will leave you with a few of the rules I follow:
- We buy most of our groceries from the outside edges of the grocery store: the produce, dairy and meat sections.
- Stay out of the aisles as much as possible with these limited exceptions: cereal, baking supplies, nut butters and, of course, coffee.
- Get in the habit of reading food labels. Look for nutrient breakdown, the number of ingredients, whether it includes more real food or more chemicals
- If it has trans fats, put the box back on the shelf.
- If you bake it yourself, you know what's in it.
3. Accept reality. Then move on.
Yes, we generally do get slower as we age so don’t sweat it much. While we can train hard to fight the natural ageing process, we will still have to accept that performance in terms of overall and top-end speed and power will decline as we age. There are enough sources for stress in the world already so let's try to not add any extra to the pool. Having said that, accepting reality also means taking steps to slow the performance decline as much as possible.
4. Don’t accept ageing as an excuse for performance declines.
See #3 above? Well, dig your heels in a fight with everything you have. Many of our generation of lifelong performance athletes have a very limited pool of role models. Masters athletes aren't often seen in media coverage and female masters athletes even less so. That takes my thoughts in a few directions but, in terms of performance, each of us has so few media references that we really don't know the full extent of our capabilities. I like to say that each of us are a sample size of one. So, while we can accept that our performance will decline with age, we have little evidence to support the extent of that decline. On the other hand, there is little to show us what is possible either. That is where I choose to focus: our limits aren't yet known and they haven't been written so we are free to see what our potential is. I choose to see what is possible and I choose to swim, bike and run with anyone. So far, I'm holding my own and I plan to keep working on it.
5. Just say "NO!" to fad diets.
Hopefully, you'd figured that one out already. They straight up don’t work and can cause longer-term negative health effects. Why add more potential complications?
And, please, please, please, use your common sense when you are looking to the internet for advice. Yes, there is some great nutrition information out there and here are a few hints on how to identify the good stuff and weed out the bogus:
- The author has an actual degree in the subject matter.
- The source is an actual scientific paper
- The source doesn't make any promises. There is no one thing that will change your life and change your performance, no matter how enticing the promise sounds. And the simpler fix, the more enticing it sounds, the more likely it is to be false.
- You don't have to go through a 10-minute video that talks about their unique system that you can buy for just a fraction of its purported value.
- If it is a buffed-up male personal trainer* addressing menopausal women and telling them he has the solution, take a hard pass on that one.
(* My apologies to those of you who think you fit into this category. I mean no disrespect to any individual.)
6. More isn’t always better. Better is better. Train smart.
High volume training is the norm in endurance sports like ironman triathlon and ultra running. With more volume as well as changing physiology, we are more susceptible to overuse syndromes and injuries. Strength training can help to combat the age-related decline in of our muscle volume but we also lose our top-end speed potential unless we train specific systems to maintain explosive strength and power. Smart training should incorporate the following:
- Threshold interval training to maintain aerobic & anaerobic systems.
- Plyometric training to develop and maintain muscle elasticity.
- Smart stretching to maintain the range of motion of joints and muscles.
- Continued focus on technique. (We might as well use the wisdom of our years, right?)
Smart training incorporating a regular protocol of quality intervals, yoga and strength training will have better long term results than a diet of LSD (long, slow distance).
7. Older and wiser: use your years of experience to your best benefit. Good technique can make you more efficient and prevent injury.
You know the saying "older and wiser"? Applying this to training to swim, bike and run, I like to say our wisdom can come in terms of refined technique.
We all know that technique counts for a lot in swimming but improvements in technique can also make you a better cyclist and maybe even a better runner. Seek out experts if you haven't already and learn better technique. In swimming where technique is so important, it is common to see masters athletes continue to perform at high levels. There was a local swimmer who competed into his late-70's in masters' meets and was still swimming sub-30 second for 50m in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. Now, he was a world-class swimmer and was capable of far faster times than most of us could ever dream of but the point of it is that his swim stroke was technically so good, so beautiful to watch, that his superior technique allowed him to counter age-related declines in performance. I will never swim at his level but I saw him swim many times and he worked on technique in every single workout to keep his swim stroke in perfect form. That is a lesson we can all carry into our daily training.
8. If it hurts, look into it now.
Don’t waste time on this one or hope that it will just go away. Pay attention to aches and pains and try to sort out which are the ones that need attention. Masking pain with NSAID's can allow you to get through a few workouts in the short term but they can mask underlying injuries that require rest and rehabilitation. Ignoring an injury that really needs some type of intervention can unnecessarily shorten your career as an athlete. Life is too short for that, I say!
9. Get some sleep.
It's no secret that much of our repair and recovery happens while we sleep. So, make sure you get quality sleep as much as you can. Unfortunately for women, changes with ageing make this a little challenging and hormonal changes include the drop in naturally occurring melatonin among other things. I read recently that up to 60% of menopausal women have issues with insomnia. I can attest to this being an issue for me and it is frustrating. Unfortunately, when you are training hard, difficulty sleeping makes it more challenging to recover and rebuild after training. One hope is that you can tire yourself out enough that sleep comes peacefully. If that doesn't work, do some research and try to find some solutions that can help. There are lots of resources out there that can help you find a sleep solution that works but here are some of the ones that you'll find:
- Have a routine time of the evening to prepare to sleep.
- Power off or turn off electronics, particularly anything with a blue screen.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Try a soothing drink like camomile tea.
- Try melatonin supplements or tart cherry juice (which is high in melatonin)
- Try a warm bath or warm milk.
For the record, none of these seem to work consistently for me but I've learned that I can get through a few days with very little sleep and then, by the third or fourth night, exhaustion takes over. I know it's not ideal in terms of promoting great recovery but I'm working on it.
10. Treat yourself. Sometimes, it’s OK to relax and have fun.
Chillax once in a while. Kick back and enjoy some time off training, grab a beverage with some friends, even indulge in a treat here and there. If we don't sit back and enjoy your life once in a while, what are we doing this for anyway?
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Element Cycling & Multisport. Any content or comments in this article or any article in this blog are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.