We will all come to a time when it's right to say 'enough is enough', and hopefully then we can reminisce but that time doesn't need to be now. If you have the drive, desire and willing body to push you forwards, why not? Look at what you've done. Of course. But stop and rest on your laurels when you still want to do more? No chance!
As an athlete ages, there are certain issues that we are faced with that may not have been as prominent in the past, issues which we must consider if we wish to remain on top of our game, or as close as possible to it, in the years to come.
Fear not, however, as if the necessary steps, and these changes, are taken into consideration when designing a training plan, the process of ageing and the ramifications that have on our performance can be slowed to a huge extent. This will allow us to remain on top of our game and limit the losses inflicted to a much greater extent than that of their competitors, resulting in an effective advantage over the competition.
The most oxygen the body can utilise and process during exercise is our V02 max. As an athlete ages, this decreases, and as a result, essentially inhibits one's ability to produce a high-intensity effort. In simple terms, less oxygen being processed results in less of it being available to the muscle and in turn less glycogen being broken down, importantly resulting in less ATP (what fuels your muscles). Rather obviously then, this is something that a masters athlete would want to consider and try and limit to the greatest extent possible when training.
How to do this is relatively straightforward, with a good plan in place. Working at an intensity in and around the rider’s Maximal Aerobic Output (‘Zone 5’) will be very effective in stimulating this area of an athletes fitness and therefore should be a staple in the training of a rider over the age of forty-five. It should also be included at an earlier stage in the training cycle than it would be for a younger rider, as the general scientific consensus weighs more and more heavily in favour of intensity being much more of a priority for ageing riders in comparison to volume when it comes to limiting losses in performance.
Increasing Fat Mass/Decreasing Muscle Mass
As an athlete ages, it is common to hear them speak of how it is not as easy to maintain and/or lose weight as it once was. As the year's pass, ones metabolic rate slows, and the production of anabolic hormones such as testosterone decrease, meaning that maintaining muscle mass and staving off weight gain becomes increasingly difficult. It is therefore easy to see how this would negatively impact on performance. However, it is not all bad news.
Atrophication - The wasting away or decrease in size of an organ or tissue in the body
The atrophication of the muscles is not primarily a result of ageing, but instead a result of disuse, so the term ‘USE IT OR LOSE IT’, is more prevalent than ever now.
Dealing with these issues requires a multi-faceted approach, on the fronts of both diet and training.
Firstly, diet will be crucial. The ability of an ageing athlete to synthesise protein also decreases with age, and as a result intake should be increased to ensure that adequate amounts are being consumed to maximise the adaptations that take place when training, and again to retain as much of the muscle mass as possible, as well as reduce the potential of the athlete gaining weight through the conversion of unused carbohydrate, to fat.
Examples of good sources of protien are all lean meats, legumes, eggs, and lentils. Try to include some protein in every meal or snack, even if its a handful of almonds.
If necessary increase your proteic intake with supplements.
In regard to training, a particular focus should be paid to resistance and strength training for the ageing athlete on and off the bike, to ensure that muscles do not lie dormant or under-utilised, resulting in atrophication. Once these muscles have gone, the evidence states that strengthening them to past levels is almost impossible.
Again, USE IT OR LOSE IT.
As mentioned above, the general consensus is now that when it comes to balancing intensity and volume for a masters athlete, the former should be given priority and that training should get more, not less intense, as you age.
Given a decreasing aerobic capacity is seen as the primary cause for a reduction in performance in these individuals, it makes sense that they spend more time training in that area in comparison to their more youthful counterparts in an attempt to limit the losses in this area. Like muscular atrophy, science has proved that roughly 70% of this reduction is down to one's lifestyle choices- ie. training, and only 30% is due to ones age.
As a result, if done correctly and by placing a focus on this crucial element of your fitness will see you ride strongly and comparatively to your best performances, well into your fifties and beyond.
A person's chronological age is not always a true representation of their physiological age, and it has been proved time and time again, that targeted, specific training which is higher in intensity, can limit the ageing processes that take place in sedentary individuals, or even those who pursue typical ‘long slow distance’ type training methods to hugely significant levels.
In conclusion, just because you are an ageing athlete does not mean that you can no longer compete or success is a thing of the past. You can still make the most of what could be a vast experience.
Train at aerobic capacity to retain your VO2 max, and limit losses
Muscle up with protein. Consult your coach or nutritionist for guidelines of proteic intake across your seasonal periodisation.
Keep the intensity - just regulate recovery as you age.
USE IT OR LOSE IT!