Nutrition for Older Runners with Dietitian Becca Blumberg
Most of us view “runner” as an essential part of our identity. It’s not just something we do. We live, breathe, eat, and sleep for our sport. From giving up Friday happy hour so that we can nail our Saturday long run to early pre-work speed sessions, we make sacrifices for our sport. Often, our social lives revolve around it as well—running buddies we meet in our local group become life-long friends, and certain races are the can’t-miss parties of the year. We want to be able to continue this life-long love well past our 20s, 30s, and 40s. And nutrition can play an essential role in this. Today, let’s talk about nutrition for older runners.
Written by Becca Blumberg, MS, RDN
Edited by Pavlína Marek
The basics of nutrition remain the same when it comes to older runners. Fuel with simple-to-digest carbs (bananas, bagels, toast, cereal) prior to your runs to give your muscles the energy they need quickly. Keep getting those carbs in regularly if you are running long. Make sure to recover with protein AND carbs immediately after your runs, especially long or hard efforts. Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
However, certain details change as we age. For those who live in estrogen-dominant bodies, in particular, obvious shifts in hormone balance make this a common concern. Likewise, for those living in bodies fueled by testosterone, similar shifts happen and similar principles apply. Fueling with the right nutrition for older runners can help you stay in the game.
Muscle Mass: Use It or Lose It
Nutritionally, this means focusing on protein intake throughout the day and during recovery. As we age, our needs go up. Older athletes should aim for 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or more daily. (Ask your local registered dietitian for a more personalized goal if you have particular concerns.) This protein intake should be spread out throughout the day. Your body can only absorb so much protein at any one time. After that, the protein part of your food is wasted and the rest is used for energy.
Just like for younger athletes, a particularly important time for protein intake is during recovery from workouts, particularly strength sessions and long or intense runs. Make sure to ingest protein AND carbs at this time. Your body needs the carb energy in order to rebuild with the protein building blocks. For women, aim to do this within 30 minutes. Men should also aim for this snack as soon as possible, but likely have up to 2 hrs to benefit. Bonus point: protein also helps to maintain your bones.
Bone health is at the forefront of a lot of folks’ minds as they age. Many activities, including weight-bearing (like running) and resistance exercise, can support bone health. Calcium is, of course, a must. Women should aim for 1,200 mg daily and men for 1,000 mg. This can come from food sources (dairy is the primary source of calcium, but nut and soy milks, dark leafy greens, and fish are also rich in this mineral), from a supplement, or a combination of these.
Vitamin D is essential in the process of absorbing this calcium. Many Americans are deficient in this essential nutrient. Ask your primary care provider to order a lab test, then discuss supplementation with a registered dietitian nutritionist. Fortified milk, eggs, fatty fish, and mushrooms are all rich in this vitamin.
Anti-inflammatory foods help you to keep your joints happy and healthy. This doesn’t mean you should follow a strict elimination diet looking for foods that cause pain. Instead, you should focus on increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, seeds (chia, hemp, and flax are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids), nuts, whole grains, and healthy fat (found in olive oil, fish, nuts, avocados, among other foods). Look for ways to add these to your daily diet.
If you continue to stay active and honor your body with nutrient-dense delicious foods, there will be no reason for you to stop running for many years to come!
NOTE: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute a provider-patient relationship or specific nutrition advice for the reader. Any individual interested in learning more about their nutritional needs should consult their primary care provider and registered dietitian nutritionist.