The Dietary Needs of Older Athletes

14 August, 2020
Today, we'll look at the nutritional needs of older athletes. Read on and see why it's important to make changes once you get a little older.

You might have wondered if older athletes have the same dietary needs as younger athletes? As the years go by, hormone production changes and their nutritional needs change as a result. But, continuing to play sports when you’re older is an excellent habit. So, what are the dietary needs of older athletes?

We’re going to show you what nutrients it’s important to include in your diet if you’re an older athlete. By following these tips, you’ll not just improve your athletic performance but your overall health too. In fact, a poor diet can speed up the aging process and even increase the risk of injury.

Dietary needs of older athletes: proteins are essential nutrients

You probably already know that protein is essential for athletes of any age. Protein is important for muscle function and recovery processes. They also help avoid drops in performance and encourage the anabolic processes that generate lean tissue.

However, older athletes don’t just need to think about how much protein they’re getting but also when they’re getting it.

According to research published in The Journal of Nutrition, ingesting casein before going to bed encourages an increase in muscle mass and prevents catabolism in older athletes.

A chicken salad which meets the dietary needs of older athletes.

Older athletes benefit from low-carb diets

As you get older, your energy needs will decrease. However, cutting calories by restricting fat and protein isn’t a good idea as these have important functions for older athletes beyond being a simple energy source.

In order to maintain the right body composition, the best thing to do is to restrict carbohydrates. This is a very effective way of reducing body fat levels according to a study published in the journal JAMA.

This study looked at the effect on the body composition of a low-carb diet compared with a low-fat one. The low-carb diet was slightly more effective but also had benefits for overall metabolic health.

When talking about older athlete’s dietary needs, we’re not just concerned with their sporting performance, we’re thinking about their health in general, and reducing carbohydrates in their diet means a reduced risk of metabolic diseases.

Dietary needs of older athletes: anti-inflammatory foods

One of the main problems that older athletes encounter is that their body is less efficient at controlling inflammation. However, to counteract this, including more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet can be really beneficial.

These lipids can help reduce muscle damage and stimulate tissue repair, according to an article published in the journal Nutrients. Regular consumption of omega-3 helps to reduce oxidative stress on the muscles and prevent reactive oxygen production that can hinder tissue recovery.

A older couple planking.

If this weren’t enough, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also good for preventing joint damage, which is one of the most common health problems among older athletes. In fact, according to research from 2019, the consumption of omega-3 can help prevent the development of arthritis.

Optimize your diet according to your age

Young athletes don’t have the same dietary concerns as older athletes. Older athletes need more protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, and they need less energy and fewer carbohydrates.

But as a general rule, older athletes should prioritize foods that help them to maintain their muscle mass and prevent common health problems associated with aging.

If you have doubts, consult a nutritionist or dietitian who will assess your age, lifestyle, and needs to come up with a diet that’s just right for you. You’ll soon see what a difference it can make!

  • Kouw IW., Holwerda AM., Trommelen J., Fleur Kramer I., et a., Protein ingestion before sleep increases overnight muscle protein synthesis rates in healthy older men: a randomized controlled trial. J Nutr, 2017. 147 (12): 2252-2261.
  • Gardner C., Low fat vs low carbohydrate diets and weight loss reply. JAMA, 2018. 320 (2): 203-204.
  • Gammone MA., Riccioni G., Parrinello G., D’Orazio N., Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: benefits and endpoints in sport. Nutrients, 2018.
  • Saidane O., Semerano L., Sellam J., Could omega 3 fatty acids prevent rheumatoid arthritis? Joint Bone Spine, 2019. 86 (1): 9-12.