Nutrition for Older Athletes: Everything You Need to Know

16th February 2020
Up to what age can you play sports? What specific recommendations should be followed when it comes to nutrition? Check out today's article and understand the basics of nutrition for older athletes. Who said age is an issue?

Because retirement provides free time, many older people want to start a workout plan. Nevertheless, it’s important to consider the specific nutrition for older athletes before starting a new regime. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a fitness newbie looking for a healthy retirement, nutrition is a basic. Here’s everything you need to know about it!

Food is your body’s fuel and, as you age, your nutritional needs vary. As such, there’s a decrease in energy needs and an increase in vitamin and mineral requirements. Therefore, the elderly should eat a diet with a high nutrient density.

Nutrition for older athletes: energy needs

As we age, our energy needs lower. This is due to a general reduction in physical activity and changes in body composition.

Of course, your specific needs depend on a variety of factors. Nevertheless, in general, men over 60 years old need around 2,400 calories per day. On the other hand, women older than 60 years old need around 1,875 calories every day.

If you’re interested in tailoring these general daily intakes, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian. There, the doctor will adjust this intake based on weight, gender, and physical activity.

Water

Older people are prone to dehydration, as well as other fluid and electrolyte disorders. This is because their kidneys have a lower capacity, and they also have a lower thirst sensation.

Because of this, it’s key that they drink water frequently. This is especially true when the older athlete isn’t feeling thirsty: you need to hydrate your body before it’s actually asking for water!

Of course, older athletes should be given a personalized hydration pattern. A nutritionist will offer a tailored recommendation considering the type of effort and atmospheric conditions.

Protein

The recommendations on protein intake for older athletes used to be similar to those of the general population. This means 0.9-1 grams of protein per kilogram of weight.

However, nowadays experts realize that older people can be subject to metabolic stress. Because of this, for older athletes, many nutritionists recommend up to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight.

Elderly woman drinks milk in order to strengthen her bones.

Evidently, older athletes should take high-quality protein only. If an older athlete fails to fulfill their protein requirements, many problems can ensue. Too little protein can lead to a greater loss of muscle mass, alterations in the immune function, deterioration of the intestinal mucosa and poor wound healing.

Carbohydrates

Older people benefit from a healthy, daily dose of carbohydrates. Choosing vegetables, eaten raw or lightly cooked, is the best option. In turn, eating veggies also helps with digestion, gradually releasing energy. Of course, this will prevent your blood sugar from spiking.

As with other adults, older athletes must have a different nutritional pattern for rest and training days. You should adapt your carb intake to optimize glycogen stores.

Nutrition for older athletes: the importance of lipids

For older athletes, it’s best to keep your lipid intake relatively low. Nevertheless, when adding fats it’s best to stick to heart-helping products, such as olive oil.

When adults get past 60 years old, experts recommend increasing polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially those of the omega-3 family. These compounds are abundant in bluefish and have positive effects on disease prevention.

Vitamins and minerals

Older adults have a boosted vitamin increase. Their metabolism is lower, and having an appropriate vitamin and mineral intake is especially vital.

If your vitamin intake is too low, it can cause and develop different chronic conditions that are best avoided. Having regular portions of healthy fats helps you to absorb vitamins better: many of them are fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K), and products such as olive oil will boost your absorption.

On the other hand, calcium, iron, and zinc are three important minerals for elderly people, from a nutritional point of view. Other minerals such as manganese, copper, and selenium are also relevant since they’re involved in the aging processes and in the suffering of degenerative diseases. Eating bluefish and green leafy vegetables is a good option.

Specific nutrition for older athletes: our best tips

As we’ve already mentioned, older people have some alterations in the processes of absorption and digestion of nutrients. Because of it, it’s best to control what’s ingested. Avoiding malnutrition is essential, and for this, you have to follow some guidelines:

  • Include vegetables within each meal and at least three pieces of fruit. This serves to guarantee the contribution of fiber, vitamins, and minerals in the diet.
  • Ensure protein intake including legumes, meat, fish and eggs at all meals.
Older athletes exercising need to have a proper nutrition

  • Eat healthy fats, such as virgin olive oil or nuts.
  • Ensure water supply. You can add fruits to the water to improve and vary the flavor.

Type of exercise for older athletes

With age, the immune system becomes slightly deregulated. Because of this, older people should include exercise in their daily routine. As such, moderate exercise improves the immune system and lowers the chance of respiratory infections.

Finally, strength training also has positive consequences for older people. This is especially true when compared to older adults who only walk. Because of this, consulting a professional and working this capacity is your best option.

  • Martín PM, Triana FMC. 2006. Nutrición en el anciano hospitalizado. Revista Española de Geriatría y Gerontología, 41(6), 340-356
  • Villarroel RM et al. 2012. Prevalencia de malnutrición en la población anciana española: una revisión sistemática. Medicina clínica, 139(11), 502-508