The Fountain of Youth: Preventing the loss of muscle mass with aging
Masters athletes face a two way battle. They must train hard, do intervals, and race, yes- BUT there is another perhaps bigger issue that often gets ignored.
Many are familiar with the challenges that cyclists face in regards to bone density. Cycling is not a weight bearing activity and so cyclists are notorious for low bone density. However, another less known issue , Sarcopenia, refers to the loss of muscle mass. In cycling, muscle is power. If you lose your muscle, the power goes out with it. Masters athletes in particular are already battling Sarcopenia due to the effects of aging. Some studies have shown that Masters lose on average about 1% of muscle power per year. Over 5 to 10 years that can really start to add up. In order to continue to compete at a high level, year after year, Masters athletes must pay particular attention to combating the forces of Sarcopenia. The good news is that there are a lot of things that we can do to keep from losing our precious muscle mass:
1. Strength Training: Here it is again. I know I sound like a broken record, but I really can't stress the importance of strength training enough. Especially for masters athletes. Strength training is the most effective tool for stimulating the growth of muscle fibers. Masters athletes are particularly at risk for losing their Fast-twitch muscle fibers; the muscle that allows you to attack and sprint for the win. Strength training will help maintain the size of these muscle fibers, as well as maintain your brain's ability to recruit these muscle fibers when it matters most. Not only that, but strength training will stimulate the release of Growth Hormone and Insulin-like Growth Factor-1. You heard that right, you can boost these performance enhancing hormones (legally) through strength training. Combined with training on the bike, these increased hormone levels can enhance adaptations while cycling and while lifting in the gym. For this reason, I recommend that Masters athletes lift year round in the gym. Depending on what time of year it is, the intensity of the strength training will look different, but the benefits of regular gym work are too important to be ignored. For this reason, I give all my athletes a proprietary weight training program to supplement on the bike work.
2. Alkaline diet: An acidic environment in the blood will leach out precious minerals such as calcium, which makes our bones strong, increasing risk of osteoporosis. But a diet that is too acidic will also cause the nitrogen that makes up our muscles to be excreted in the urine as well. All foods are either acidic, or alkaline. Eating foods that are primarily alkaline will help to keep your muscles and bones strong for many years to come. What does an alkaline diet look like? All fruits and vegetables range on the alkaline scale. Meat, dairy, grains, sugar, and legumes are all acidic. I'm not suggesting that you only eat fruits and vegetables-- that would be even more unhealthy, but there are some things you can do to help maintain an alkaline environment.
--1.Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetable per day. This is a minimum, 7-10 serving would be even better.
--2. Offset acidic foods with alkaline foods. Eating steak for dinner? Have a big salad with it. Oatmeal for breakfast? Throw some fruit in it. The alkalinity of the fruits and vegetable will offset the acidity in other foods and thus help keep you in an alkaline state.
--3. Cut back on refined sugars and dairy. Refined sugar and dairy, especially cheese, is extremely acidic and inflammatory. Limit consumption of these foods to 0-1 servings per day. Don't get me wrong, I love cookies, but just make sure not too consume these foods to often. A great way to limit consumption of refined sugars is to use a low-glycemic alternative such as agave nectar or coconut sugar as a sweetener instead.
Protein: The western diet typically provides more than enough protein to meet daily needs. However, what is perhaps equally important is when you eat this protein throughout the day. Studies show that spacing your protein in smaller amounts throughout the day is best for building and maintaining muscle mass. Eating 15-20 grams of protein every 3-4 hours has been shown to promote muscle building better than consuming 2 or 3 larger meals with higher protein amounts. In order to achieve this, make sure that you are eating every 3-4 hours, but also make sure that your snacks contain some good protein as well. Some good protein snacks can be Greek yogurt, beef jerky, or a nutritious protein bar (I like Rx bars). This might also mean scaling back the protein in your meals too, a proper serving size of meat is about 3 ounces, this is about the size of a deck of cards. One final recommendation is to consume a pre-bedtime snack containing protein. Casein protein is the best type of protein for this as it is slowly digested and will prevent muscle breakdown while you sleep.
Phew! A lot of information in a short amount of time. These are some small things that you can do, but they will make a big difference over the long run. These recommendations will help keep you muscles and bones strong, and allow you to keep hammering for many years to come. Thanks for reading!