By Candace H. Chemtob, MS, RD, LD, CSSD
Exercise is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Exercising has far reaching health benefits that span across the years. Without regular exercise, achieving your optimal health would be impossible, and this advantage becomes more pronounced as we age. In my last article, the health benefits of being active and playing squash through the years were discussed. This article will focus on the nutritional needs of the “older” (2) athlete.
Regardless of age, all athletes need to consume a diet adequate in energy, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fluids. The nutritional needs of older athletes vary only slightly from the needs of younger athletes and this is summarized below:
Energy Needs: With age, energy (calories) needs decline. This decline is linked to age related losses of metabolically active muscle mass. The good news is that rigorous (endurance) exercise combined with weight training can prevent or slow down losses in both males and females. However, this protective effect may not be as pronounced in the recreational player, and it may be necessary to eat fewer calories (or play more squash) to avoid gradual weight gain.
Protein needs: The exact protein needs of older athletes remains somewhat controversial. There is, however, a consensus that extra dietary protein is needed for muscle repair and recovery throughout the lifespan. Current protein recommendations for high intensity sports, like squash, is 1.2-1.4g protein/kg or 82-95g protein for a 150 pound athlete (ACSM and ADA Guidelines, 2009).
Vitamins and Minerals: The vitamin and mineral requirements of athletes can be increased, whether young or old. Training can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals through increased demand and/or increased losses (e.g., through sweat). There is, however, a lack of research specifically looking at the needs of older athletes. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake, IOM, 2010) recommends increases in calcium, Vitamin D, and B6 for Americans over the age of fifty-one to seventy years old.
Drug Nutrient Interactions: Prescription medications used to treat chronic diseases can cause nutritional deficiencies. Diuretics increase sodium, potassium and magnesium urinary losses. Aspirin can increase gastrointestinal blood loss and can eventually result in iron deficiency. Intestinal calcium absorption is decreased with corticosteroids, such as Prednisone. Please consult with your physician or dietitian about specific drug nutrient interactions.
Fluid needs: Dehydration has a negative impact on athletic performance. Furthermore, severe dehydration can have serious health consequences, such as heat stroke. As we age, the risk of dehydration rises. One contributory factor is that the stimulus to drink—thirst—is blunted with age. After being deprived of fluids, “older persons are less thirsty and drink less fluid compared to younger persons” (Nutr Rev., 2010, August). Secondly, there is a gradual age-related decline in renal function. The kidneys no longer “recapture” as much fluid causing increased fluid losses. These age-related changes can be easily overcome by knowing one’s individual fluid requirements.
The bottom line is to push yourself, resist slowing down, meet your nutritional needs, and squash will help keep you fit and healthy for years to come.
Please note: If you have not exercised regularly: The health risks of being sedentary have been well documented and, while staying physically active can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and myocardial infarctions (“heart attacks”), not to mention cancer and other diseases, starting an exercise program can pose some risks. The AHA recommends consulting a physician to screen for possible undetected heart disease, hypertension, or other conditions that might be worsened by strenuous exercise.