Although science suggests that our physical performance decreases significantly year to year after age 40, on average, you do not need to be average. Sure, if you have been performing in a sport like running at an elite level for many years, you’ll likely experience a decline in your speed and strength with more nagging pains than when you were under 40. However, if you are just picking up physique competition for the first time, the changes can still be dramatic. It’s all relative, but we must shoot for improvement to avoid father time from catching up with us.
I’d like to say that age is just a number and we should just imagine ourselves as being 29 until we are 80. That’s great for our minds, but doesn’t always work for our bodies. We should always keep our real age in the back of our minds as it helps us to be proactive in avoiding injury and valuable time away from the activities we love. As we get older, time away from training causes more rapid de-conditioning and further setbacks than when we were younger.
There are a number of biological changes that occur as we age that can affect our training for performance. First, anabolic hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and growth hormone levels start to drop. This results in more difficulty recovering from catabolic states like prolonged high-intensity training and muscle breakdown. Second, we become less sensitive to the effects of recovery provided by our food. That is, we become less sensitive to the branched chain amino acid leucine which turns on muscle protein synthesis for maintaining muscle mass and metabolic currency. (Read my book The Leucine Factor Diet for more info available at Amazon.com). Third, our tendons, ligaments, and cartilage become more prone to injury over time. This could be due to chronic overuse or due to the aging effect.
In order to keep training well over 40 we need to take some considerations in mind:
1) Have regular follow-up with your physician. After 40 we really should have a good physical exam and comprehensive blood work each year. Make sure your lipids are healthy. Even though you may work out every day, your cholesterol and triglycerides could be affected by your genetics resulting in a need to be more aggressive in prevention of cardiovascular disease. If you are struggling to recover from training or having recurrent or chronic injuries you may need an in depth hormonal evaluation. Consider seeing a physician boarded by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine for a comprehensive strategy to avoid premature aging.
2) Increase the quality of protein in your diet. All proteins aren’t created equal. Whey protein has 30% more leucine than soy protein. Beef has more leucine than tofu or nuts. Since we become less sensitive to leucine as we age, we need more leucine in our meals to respond to build or maintain tissues like muscle. Consider adding a protein supplement like AboutTime whey isolate or GNC’s Wheybolic 60 to your diet. Consider a 5 meal-a-day diet that delivers the leucine your body can use every 3 hours. Add whey to your meals when eating low quality proteins.
3) Add stretching, balance, and core training to your routine. Since our tissues become more brittle and our balance suffers with age, we should work on stretching, proprioception, balance, agility and core strength to avoid injury. One of the best ways to do this is to take yoga and/or Pilates classes. You can go to direct access physical therapists for more specific exercises and diagnostic evaluations of your movement patterns (or get a prescription from your physician). Training your core helps to support your back. We will all experience loss of resiliency in our intervertebral disks as we age; thus protect your back with abdominal exercises, planks, and hollow holds.
4) Change things up. Variety is the spice of life. First, change up your training intensity day to day, week to week. Going all out all of the time is a perfect set up of overtraining syndrome and injury. The terrible too’s lead to injury: doing too much, too soon, too often. Recovery is the key to success. Proper nutrition, sleep, and cross training are needed to let muscle groups and joints recover from day to day. If you feel pain in a joint don’t stop moving all together; train around it working core, flexibility, and non-painful muscle groups.
5) Consider more protective gear. As we age, it may be of benefit to consider regular wearing of a lifting belt, knee wraps, elbow and wrist wraps etc. Do an active warm up and remember to spend some time on the little muscles like the rotator cuff or gluteus medius.
6) Listen to your body. As we age, we need to be a little more cautious that certain pains are ones we shouldn’t blow off. The tendency to mask pain with anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen only results in the terrible too’s. If you experience sudden unexplained pain, numbness/tingling/burning that is persistent, have unexplained weight loss or gain, painful or unstable clicking, popping, or locking in joints see your physician. Note: this list is not inclusive of all the red flags of a bad disease or injury; when in doubt, get it checked out.
Don’t be afraid of aging. 40 is the new 30 and we can still age with grace like a fine wine. We need to strive to be “better than yesterday’s self” as I describe in my book The G.A.I.N. Plan. Attention to “G”raded exercise with gradual inclines and regular objective grading of progress is critical to avoiding injury. Listening to how your body and day to day stress affect your “A”ttidude will help you avoid the terrible too’s. Having regular medical evaluations “I”ntegrates medicine into your optimized performance. Finally, having well balanced, natural food “N”utrition and appropriate supplementation helps to optimize recovery and performance. G.A.I.N. an advantage as you age, train smart, train efficient, train for longevity.