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Sports Nutrition for Masters Athletes 



Introduction 

In this article, a masters athlete is considered the age of 50 and older as most of the metabolic and nutritional research that is available on this population group is done in those aged >55 (Desbrow et al., 2019). As athletes age, their nutritional needs shift in order to best support common physiological changes such as loss of lean muscle mass, potentially a decline in VO2 max, and an increase in injury occurrence (Volpe, 2010). 


In order to sustain peak performance, it is important for older athletes to understand and prioritize their sports nutrition. In this article, we will discuss the key considerations for masters athletes over 50, focusing on total energy needs, protein requirements, and micronutrients. 


Total Energy Needs 


One of the most important factors to consider when it comes to sports nutrition for masters athletes is ensuring adequate energy intake. Though this is the main priority for any athlete, of any sport, and of any age; this may become particularly challenging as athletes age. 


It is common for normal hunger cues and appetite to diminish with age for various reasons. This may be due to changes in training volume and intensity, fluctuations in body composition, and/or decline in TEE [TEE = total energy expenditure, and this includes energy used to sustain life (BMR or basal metabolic rate), to digest food (thermogenesis), and physical activity-related energy expenditure]. 


(Pontzer et al., 2021) found that peak metabolism occurs during infancy, drops slightly by ~20 years of age, remains steady between years ~20-60, and begins to decline again by age 60 with adjusted TEE and BMR of 0.7% per year. 


Although BMR does begin to decrease by age 60, masters athletes are not considered sedentary individuals and obtaining an adequate amount of fuel to sustain their training needs is top priority (Volpe, 2010). 


Protein Requirements 


Protein is an essential nutrient for athletes of all ages, but it becomes even more crucial for masters athletes. With age and lack of strength training, muscles naturally experience a decline in mass and strength, leading to a greater risk of muscle loss and injuries. Additionally, (Coelho-Junior et al., 2022) found that “...inadequate protein intake might be associated with sarcopenia in older adults.”


To counteract this, masters athletes should prioritize protein intake to support muscle growth, repair, and recovery. The general recommendation for athletes is to consume 1.2-2.0g/kg/d. However, depending on the type and intensity of the training regimen, it may be beneficial to aim for the higher end of this range to maintain muscle mass and function. 


Including a source of protein at each meal and snack can help distribute protein intake throughout the day and optimize muscle protein synthesis.


Examples of protein sources:

  • Fish

  • Beans

  • Poultry

  • Meat

  • Dairy

  • Tempeh

  • Tofu

  • Peas

  • Seitan

  • Protein powder

  • Protein bars


Micronutrients 


Micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals that play a crucial role in supporting overall health and athletic performance. Some key micronutrients of concern for masters athletes include: 


Calcium is important for maintaining bone health which becomes increasingly important as adults age, due to reduced calcium absorption that often occurs (Veldurthy et al., 2016). Good sources of calcium include dairy products, fortified plant-based milks, leafy green vegetables, cottage cheese, and canned salmon. 


Vitamin D plays a role in calcium absorption and bone health. It is synthesized in the skin when exposed to sunlight, but as one ages, their ability to produce vitamin D declines. Therefore, it may be necessary to supplement with vitamin D or consume fortified foods such as fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and fortified plant-based milks. Additionally, it has been estimated that nearly half the population is deficient in vitamin D and older adults are at greater risk of deficiency (van Schoor and Lips, 2017).


B vitamins are involved in “...energy metabolism, cognitive and nerve function, DNA production, and the formation of red blood cells” (Asche, 2023). As adults age, the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods may decline due to reduced stomach acid that is needed for this process (Asche, 2023). Good sources of B vitamins include whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and leafy green vegetables. 


Conclusion 


By considering an individual’s total energy needs, prioritizing protein intake, and ensuring an adequate intake of micronutrients, masters athletes can continue to thrive and achieve their goals. It is always recommended to consult with a registered dietitian who can provide personalized guidance and support based on individual needs and circumstances. 


Photo Credit: Joseph Roark


Resources


Asche, A. (2023, April 30). Master’s athletes: Nutrition for athletes over 50. Eleat Sports Nutrition. https://eleatnutrition.com/blog/masters-athletes


Coelho-Junior, H., Calvani, R., Azzolino, D., Picca, A., Tosato, M., Landi, F., Cesari, M., & Marzetti, E. (2022). Protein intake and sarcopenia in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(14), 8718. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19148718


Desbrow, B., Burd, N. A., Tarnopolsky, M., Moore, D. R., & Elliott-Sale, K. J. (2019). Nutrition for special populations: Young, female, and masters athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 220–227. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0269


Pontzer, H., Yamada, Y., Sagayama, H., Ainslie, P. N., Andersen, L. F., Anderson, L. J., Arab, L., Baddou, I., Bedu-Addo, K., Blaak, E. E., Blanc, S., Bonomi, A. G., Bouten, C. V. C., Bovet, P., Buchowski, M. S., Butte, N. F., Camps, S. G., Close, G. L., Cooper, J. A., … IAEA DLW Database Consortium§. (2021). Daily energy expenditure through the human life course. Science (New York, N.Y.), 373(6556), 808–812. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abe5017


van Schoor, N., & Lips, P. (2017). Global overview of vitamin D status. Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, 46(4), 845–870. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecl.2017.07.002


Veldurthy, V., Wei, R., Oz, L., Dhawan, P., Jeon, Y. H., & Christakos, S. (2016). Vitamin D, calcium homeostasis and aging. Bone Research, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/boneres.2016.41


Volpe, S. L. (2010). Physiological changes and nutrition for masters athletes. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 14(1), 36–38. https://doi.org/10.1249/fit.0b013e3181c67018




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