It’s a humbling fact of life that, as you age, you lose muscle mass. Thankfully, there are strategies to offset this wastage; one by adding a tri-specific weights session or two each week, and the other is to increase more protein into your diet.
Introducing weight sessions will stimulate testosterone – the fertiliser behind muscle growth – unlike excessive endurance training that can eat away at muscle.
“You should also increase protein content from around 1.2g/kg bodyweight to 1.5g/kg each day,” explains performance biochemist Dr Rob Child. “Animal proteins, from meat, fish and dairy, are the ideal. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you might need to increase that level further.” Animal proteins are favoured due to their amino-acid profile, which is more complete than from vegetable sources.
As for protein levels between men and women, this is broadly the same, but there are differences according to event distance. “Olympic-distance triathlon is relatively short, so you require a high power output to be successful,” says Child. “Some female athletes might not naturally have the required muscle mass to deliver optimum performance, unlike men for whom muscle mass isn’t a limiting factor. It means female athletes might need more protein.”
As distance grows to middle and long, there’s a levelling out as power’s arguably less important than endurance. However, this is where individualisation comes in, says Child. “Muscle mass can actually be detrimental at Ironman so some athletes – usually men – might seek to reduce their protein intake slightly. Skinny long-course athletes, however, are probably okay with the 1.2g/kg as long as they have enough bike power.”