From the time you’re born, your muscles grow larger and stronger. Then at some point in your thirties, you begin to lose muscle mass and function. Those married to the sofa lose 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade after 30, but even active triathletes experience some muscle loss with acceleration really kicking in from around 60 to 65-onwards.
That’s where strength training comes in. You see, while endurance exercise is great for the heart and lungs, it’s also catabolic, meaning you can actually lose muscle mass. This is particularly relevant as you age because one of the key anabolic (muscle-building) hormones, testosterone, naturally starts to decrease. Strength training, however, is anabolic, stimulating muscle-building hormones, like testosterone and human growth hormone.
“You should strength train a couple of times a week,” says tri coach Joe Friel, “and it’s easily done as you can reduce the length of a swim, bike or run session by 15mins and replace with tri-specific strength exercises. A gym’s ideal though a Theraband and skipping rope can come in handy. Just ensure you periodise these weight sessions after swim, bike and run sessions that aren’t exhausting, so low duration and intensity.”
Friel also suggests that ageing athletes will “benefit more from extensive sleep than when they were younger”. That’s where napping comes in. In triathlon, Olympic champion Gwen Jorgensen was renowned for napping for 30mins or less six times a week. Why is because napping’s been shown to restore alertness, enhance performance and reduce mistakes. A study at NASA on military pilots and astronauts found that a 40min nap improved performance by
34% and alertness by 100%.
Struggle to sleep after exercise?
“If you can nap for long enough – around 40mins – you release hormones like testosterone and growth hormone that help to repair and build muscle,” says sleep expert Nick Littlehales, but even shorter naps of 20mins are beneficial to restore alertness for an evening workout. “The good news,” Littlehales continues, “is that with these shorter naps, you don’t even need to fall asleep. Just let your mind wander, relax and you’ll still enjoy rejuvenation benefits.” Ideal if you have an evening session planned
“There’s research suggesting that older athletes will better maintain muscle mass by eating more protein,” says Friel. Studies determine the following as the ideal: 0.4g protein per kg bodyweight four or five times a day; additional one to two servings of dairy (glass of milk, low-fat yoghurt) with each meal; and 40g casein protein before bed to maximise overnight synthesis rates.
Reaching your sixties isn’t an impediment to reaching peak performance, says top tri coach Joe Friel
1. DO 1HR/WEEK IN THE POOL
Develop basic swim skills (posture, duration, length, catch) and swim fast for short distances, e.g. 25m, with 30secs rest between intervals.
2. GET AN ANNUAL WINTER BIKE FIT
This is even more important as you age because muscle fibres struggle to retain elasticity, meaning you’ll become less streamlined.
3. EAT MORE ALKALINE FOODS
As you age, there’s a tendency for acid-base imbalance, which can contribute to bone and muscle loss. The answer? More veggies!