Don’t fear, a ‘good diet’ doesn’t mean that you will never taste the joy of pizza again, or the crunch of a potato chip – because you ride, you can eat those foods with (almost) guilt-free pleasure from time to time. However all research on nutrition is clear – the healthier you eat, the healthier you’ll remain.
As we get older it pays to take more care with what you ingest, and doing so will help you stay strong on and off the bike.
Mmmmm! Eaten in Rivoli, Italy, 2017, still can taste it now…
1. Increase the protein intake
You may think that you are getting enough protein from your food. However, most older athletes may still need to increase their intake to maximise recovery. This is because studies show that an older adult will not respond to a 20g dose of protein as a younger person does, so a higher dose of protein is needed to stimulate muscle building. Some older adults experience decreased appetite and will reduce portions, leading to lower overall protein intake. We need to remember that our protein needs are higher compared to when we were young.
How much protein do you need?
15% to 35% of your calories should come from protein. So if you’re eating say per day 2,000 calories, that’s 200–700 calories from protein, or 50–175 grams – it’s quite a big range, but as athletes and older people we need do be near the higher end of that. The recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Once you reach ages 40–50, sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass due to age), begins to set in. To prevent this, your protein needs increase to about 1–1.2 grams per kilogram, or 75–90 grams per day for a 75-kilogram person.
People who exercise regularly also have higher needs, about 1.1–1.5 grams per kilogram.
People who regularly lift weights, or are training for an endurance event, need 1.2–1.7 grams per kilogram. Excessive protein intake would be more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. Be careful with this as too much protein can lead to weight gain. If in doubt, speak to a nutritionist.
Try 35-40g of leucine-rich protein foods (e.g. beef, tofu, milk, soy beverage, whey powder) after strenuous exercise – you need not do this every day, but after a hard gym session or hard bike ride, it’s recommended.
Why? Leucine is an amino and is essential for athletes because it has anabolic properties for muscle building, and anti-catabolic properties to preserve existing muscle fibres. This amino acid contributes to the assimilation and synthesis of proteins. So there ya go!
2. More Good Fats
This is the good stuff, good to eat and good for the system.
Aim for unsaturated fats, such as: fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel), nuts and seeds, avocado and plant-based oils. This is particularly important for athletes with cardiovascular disease or those at higher risk of cardiovascular disease (e.g. people with type 2 diabetes).
Lower carbohydrate/higher fat diets have become popular in some athletic circles and while they have been shown to promote adaptations such as enhanced fat oxidation during exercise, they generally lead to an impairment in the ability to utilise carbohydrate for high intensity efforts (e.g. at the end of a race).
Older athletes will utilise fats similarly to younger athletes. In general, fats should be kept fairly low in the diet, less than 30%, but even lower if you are looking to reduce body fat levels. Fats won’t directly impact athletic performance, but reduced amounts pre-exercise will help gastric emptying for stomach comfort during strenuous of exercise. So, no fatty stuff before those intervals.
These foods also help reduce inflammation, so even more reason to get munching.
3. More Micros
You know all this stuff by now! Calcium and vitamin D for bone health, vitamin B12, potassium, plus the anti-oxidant vitamins C & E. To be sure you get more of these goodies, aim to make your plate as colourful as possible. A multi-vit will work too.
Water. As we get older our kidneys get a little old too, help them out by knocking back 1.5-2 litres of water over your day, and don’t skimp on the bike.
Alcohol! Yes, by all means, have a drink. Research shows that moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers – but drink wisely. A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or a dark beer some evenings is fine, though doctors suggest all adults should have at least one day a week without alcohol.
My favourite, Trappistes Rochefort.
As we get older – and this is true of our training too – it’s not about suffering like Pantani every once in a while – it’s about being consistent at a level you can cope with almost every single day. And not just on the bike but off it too. Try this: ask yourself, throughout the day, Is what I’m doing right now going to help me achieve my goals?
However… if you were to follow all the tips set out above every single day, with everything weighed out and dialled in, I’d be impressed… and a little depressed! We have to splurge sometimes, have to wing it – have to feel human.
However, the more often you can do more of these suggestions, the better your health will be, the less injuries you will have, and the stronger you will be, for longer too.
Double 50! Robert Marchand rode 100km to celebrate his 100th birthday..!