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Fitness and Nutrition Needs in Forties and Older

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-02-25 (Revised/Updated 2010-06-24) - As we age our fitness regime and health programs should take us to twice the life expectancy of our ancestors. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Gina Jackson, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Consultant.

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A century ago, the life expectancy of the average adult was just 42 years of age. Now, we age and acquire not only wrinkles and grey, but wisdom and a consciousness to our fitness regime and program that can carry us to more than 2X the life expectancy of our ancestors.

If you are conscious about your health, the quality of your life and the grace and ease with which you choose to enjoy it, you have likely adopted a lifestyle approach to fitness. It has ceased to be a fad, a "start and stop again" activity, but has become a part of how you simply live your life. That means it is not an afterthought. It is not an activity that needs prioritizing. It doesn't get bumped off the calendar. It is as second nature to you as brushing your teeth, shaving your face or legs, eating and breathing. If you count yourself as one of these "fitness for life-ers," you may think that your sports nutrition needs differ from those of younger athletes.

Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., nutrition counselor at Sports Medicine Associates, states that today's research suggests older athletes do not have significantly different nutritional needs besides optimizing their sports diets so they'll have every possible edge over younger competitors. The biggest nutritional concern, for the over 40 crowd, should be to "routinely eat quality calories from nutrient-dense, health-protective foods that support top performance, enhance recovery from hard workouts and reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and other debilitating diseases."

The following few thoughts may help the over 40 crowd create a winning nutrition plan that's appropriate for every sport, including the best sport of simply living life to its fullest! At the risk of rubbing an open sore (the Yankees just lost the 7th game at this writing), you don't want to end up like Mickey Mantle, who once said, "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself."

Carbohydrates - Focus your meals on wholesome, fiber-rich carbs. For example, multi-grain breads, rye crackers, brown rice and oatmeal fuel muscles and protect against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Carb-rich bananas, orange juice, yogurt and/or smoothies also do the job. If you recover slowly from workouts, remember immediate, post-exercise refueling optimizes recovery.

Protein - As we age, our protein requirements increase slightly. Don't skimp on protein-rich foods. Be sure to include protein in at least two meals per day (for leaner, stronger physiques do it with every meal) to build, repair and protect your muscles. Peanut butter on an apple or celery stick; a turkey sandwich using multi-grain bread or spaghetti with meat sauce will do the job.

Clark, states, "red meat, reputed to be bad for heart health, can actually be a welcome addition to a sports diet as long as it is lean. In fact, beef's cholesterol content is similar to that of chicken and fish. Lean beef offers not only protein but also iron, zinc, B-vitamins and other nutrients important for athletes."

My favorite is protein-rich fish (e.g., salmon, swordfish, tuna and other oily fishes) as they offer health-protective fats our bodies need. These are important as they reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis. Consider consuming 12 ounces of fish per week (i.e., two to three servings).

If you prefer a vegetarian diet, enjoy generous amounts of beans, nuts and soy. Consuming a protein-rich plant food at each meal can supply adequate protein. For example, enjoy chopped walnuts in oatmeal, hummus in a pita pocket of tofu in a stir-fry.

Fats are crucial to our bodies!

Plant and fish oils have a health-protective, anti-inflammatory effect. The diseases of the aged, (heart disease and diabetes) are triggered by inflammation and thus, eating plant and fish oils that will reduce/minimize inflammation makes plain common sense. For example, people who eat peanut butter five of more times per week (on a spoon or piece of fruit) may reduce their risk of heart disease by 50 percent. I encourage my clients to enjoy a "healthy fat" at each meal--slivered almonds on salad; trail mix with nuts for snacks, fish with dinner or olive oil on salads. Fats satisfy our cravings quickly and they are very important to the athlete as an endurance exercise fuel.

Calcium - I recently added calcium supplements back into my morning nutrient Regine. I realized the absence of calcium in my diet due to my avoidance of dairy products due to a lactose intolerance. Although the bones of the over 40 crowd have long stopped growing, we need to keep them strong with resistance exercise and daily calcium. By including a calcium-rich food at each meal (including soy of lactose-free milk products), you'll invest in bone health. This could easily be milk on cereal, yogurt with lunch and a latte for a snack. Coupled with the strong bones, you need strong muscles and thus strengthening exercises using weights, at least twice a week, is essential.

Fiber - Eat enough fiber-rich foods to have regular bowel movements; this not only enhances sports performance comfort but also invests in good health. The fiber in oatmeal, for example, reduces cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Foods richest in fiber include bran cereal, bran breads and whole grains, while fruits and vegetables are second best.

Vitamins - Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are the best all natural vitamin sources. Eat a "rainbow of foods" (e.g., blueberries, orange carrots, red tomatoes, green beans, etc.), and you will consume not only lots of vitamin C, potassium and folic acid for heart health and blood pressure control, but also numerous phytochemicals considered cancer protective. Surely, there's no harm in taking a multi-vitamin, however, it is better to have at least a generous amount of fruit at breakfast and a mound colorful veggies at lunch and/or dinner (e.g., big salad or lots of broccoli). I agree whole heartedly with Clark, who states, "keep exercising: the more you exercise, the more you eat and the more vitamins you consume."

Fluids - The older you get, the less sensitive your thirst mechanism becomes. In other words, you may need fluids but not feel thirsty. To reduce the risk of chronic dehydration, drink enough so that you urinate every three to four hours. Urine should be a light color--not dark and concentrated. You are also not limited to drinking plain water--the water in fruit, yogurt, salads, soups as well as coffee and tea counts toward your fluid requirement.

Summary - Use your wisdom and eat wisely, drink plenty of fluids, exercise regularly, lift weights, refuel immediately and enjoy feeling and looking young! Make wholesome food and enjoyable exercise your winning edge!

Source: Sports Nutrition Guidebook, by Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., nutrition counselor at SportsMedicine Associat



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