Competitive Masters Athletes Can’t Train Like They Used To Do

Mug-shot-223x300I rode with a national level 51-yr old veteran cyclist last Saturday. He had a great question for me: I’m finding it hard to peak for events and recover. I’m after your advice on what training I should be doing especially the recovery periods needed for an old bloke like me?

My first comment to him was I’ll give him no advice and if I did it would be all lies – the guy races in the same age-group as me! 🙂

I asked him about his training program. Here’s a typical week:

  • Monday:  40k easy spin with short hill reps
  • Tuesday: 50k moderate to hard circuit with A-grade riders and 2k 8% climb or 100k ride with 3k 5% climb
  • Wednesday: 40k moderate ride with 20min effort up 8% climb and spin around town circuit with young A-grade riders
  • Thursday: 70k moderate to hard circuit with A-grade riders circuit and 2k 8% climb
  • Friday  40k easy spin town with some short hill reps
  • Saturday: 70k circuit moderate to hard with A-grade riders
  • Sunday: 120k easy-moderate ride

This veteran athlete has only been cycling for three years and gone from 110 kg to 85 kg. He comes from a high-performance football background so he understands the meaning of hard work. He’s ambitious, intense, competitive by nature and highly focused. His job means a lot of travel – he takes his bike and trains at night. He’s separated from his wife but lives with his 20 yr old son.

I am a huge believer that masters athletes who have been “at it” for many years know their bodies (and minds!) better than anyone else. I also emphasised that my advice was based on 34 years of competitive sport and 20 years of being a sport scientist focused on aging athletes and he needs to take on board my advice and see whether what I suggest works. If it does, hold onto it; if it doesn’t, modify my suggestions or come back to me.

My initial thoughts and comments were these:

  1. Consider having at least one day off a week. The three days in a row (Tues-Thurs) all look like tough days, especially when done with the ‘youngsters’. Wednesdays off makes sense or doing an easy spin if he feels the need to ‘do something’. Research suggests that aging athletes’ muscles take longer to repair from intense training.
  2. Use the hard-easy principle. Consider doing the Monday and Friday as easy rides without hill efforts. Hills require speed and power that use the fast twitch muscle fibres that may still be fatigued and repairing from the moderate to hard training the days before. Give them a break. An easy spin will enhance the muscle blood flow and enhance muscle repair and recovery. I am a strong believer in being fresh for quality efforts and recovering hard from moderate to hard training.
  3. Focus aggressively on recovery strategies. After training, ensure a combination of high glycemic index carbohydrate foods and proteins are taken within 30-120 minutes of training. The carbs replace the used glycogen (carbs stored in the liver and muscle) used in moderate to hard training, the protein (I use skim milk powder in smoothies) helps repair muscles.
  4. Stretching is also a must, especially the muscles and joints that have done the work. Aging reduces flexibility by shortening the number of building blocks in muscles, lowering the water content of the covering of muscles, ligaments and tendons, and tightening the matrix of connective tissue around muscles and joints. Especially for a guy who sits in meetings, at desks or in a car then sits on a bike for hours in a day. Open the joints up with stretches.
  5. Before training, have a snack, especially before moderate to hard and/or long rides. I use Powerbars that are a combination of carbs and protein. Research has shown that having both these available in the blood enhances the use of carbs (saving stored glycogen) and has the amino acids available for muscle repair and recovery.
  6. During training, ensure adequate fluid intake via sports drinks or gels combined with water intake. Most gels contain about 20-30 gm of carbs so I have bout 1/3 of a gel and swill it down with 3 mouthfuls (about 100 ml) of water. This gives the concentration of carbs in the gut needed to enhance the absorption of both fluid and carbs.
  7. Consider using some left-field strategies to help recover. I use hot-cold showers where I have it as hot as possible for 30 seconds then 20 seconds cold (in winter this is tough –brrr – and here in the tropical summers ‘cold’ isn’t cold). I actually focus the water flow on the legs and massage the thighs, hammies and calves in an upward motion to help fluid return to the heart. Why? Fluid retention within muscle bellies has been shown to be a possible cause of muscle soreness. Another left-field strategy might be to use compression garments under his work pants (I use Skins as I got a free pair from a PhD student of mine who did some research on them).
  8. Listen to your body and if it’s tired, have a day off or do an easy ride rather than a moderate to hard or long ride.

Time will tell on how my mate goes. He has enormous talent, a great work ethic, and plenty of local support. Experience will teach him the importance of ‘listening to his body’, having a few days off here and there, taking a day off during the week, and maybe having the courage to not feel the need to train with the ‘youngsters’ all the time. Their ‘moderate to hard’ is easier then we masters athletes!!

I want him to do well – but not too well! 🙂

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