Masters Athletes Not Too Savvy on Nutritional Recovery

Introduction

I have some very smart PhD students. They make me look good by producing high quality and very applied research outcomes! Tom Doering, a champion age-group triathlete, originally from Tasmania, is doing some ground-breaking research examining whether masters athletes need more protein in their recovery nutrition than younger athletes. This suggestion is based on the fact that existing research in older non-athletes has found older inactive people need more protein in their diets than younger people if they want to help maintain their muscle mass into older age. The rationale is that older people are anabolic resistant and don’t take up protein building blocks (amino acids) from food as quickly as younger people do. Tom is trying to see whether older athletes have the same issue and thus need more protein in their recovery nutrition.

To answer this research question, we first did a survey of sport nutritional knowledge and actual nutritional intakes in older and younger triathletes. Our research has shown that both young and older triathletes are not too smart when it comes to sport nutrition knowledge. Even more concerning was the lower carbohydrate and protein intakes of the masters athletes compared to the younger athletes. Here is what we did and what we found.

The Research

182 triathletes (Males=101; Female =81) completed an online survey distributed by Triathlon Australia. Knowledge of post-exercise sport nutrition recommendations for protein (20-25 grams following exercise) and carbohydrate intake (1.0-1.2 grams/kg/hour) were assessed as a group, and within sub-groups of masters (≥50 years; n=36) and younger triathletes (≤30 years; n=18). Using dietary recall of a typical post-exercise meal and subsequent dietary analysis, the actual nutritional practices of younger versus masters triathletes were also compared.

Results

As a whole group, less than 45% of the triathletes did not know the above recommended post-exercise guidelines for carbohydrate or protein. 31% of the masters triathletes and only 17% of the youngsters knew the correct amount of carbohydrate needed after exercise (1.0-1.2 grams/kg/hour). When it came to the amount of protein needed after exercise, only 25% of the over 50 year old triathletes and 22% of the younger athletes knew the correct answer (20-25 grams).

Of even greater concern was the actual carbohydrate and protein intakes of the older triathletes. The over 50 year-old athletes (0.70±0.43 g/kg) took in significantly less carbohydrate than the younger athletes (1.02±0.54 g/kg). Critically, the amount of carbohydrate intake in the older athletes was well below that recommended after exercise. Moreover, the older triathletes took in significantly less protein than the younger triathletes (0.28±0.19 g/kg vs. 0.42±0.23 g/kg), despite a suggestion based on research from older inactive people that they in fact should be taking in more protein after exercise than youngsters.

So What?

Our results suggest that regardless of age, triathletes have poor knowledge of the recommended post-exercise nutritional guidelines. However, this lack of knowledge does not appear to compromise the post-exercise nutritional practices of younger triathletes. In contrast, our data suggest masters triathletes are not consuming enough carbohydrate after training. This may compromise subsequent training, especially in older athletes who train twice a day. Our data also suggest masters triathletes consume post-exercise protein doses that may not be high enough to maximize muscle recovery in the older athlete.

For those of you wanting to know more about recovery nutrition you won’t find a better resource than this one from the Australian Institute of Sport Nutrition Unit: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/competition_and_training/recovery_nutrition

Tom is about to analyse data from a recently-completed study where we looked at higher than recommended doses of post-exercise protein intake in older triathletes to see what effect it had on cycling performance over 3 consecutive days. Next update I’ll let you know the outcomes.

For more details on what recovery strategies work in older athletes, check out chapters 15 (Recovery Strategies for Masters Athletes) and 16 (Nutrition for Masters Athletes) of my book at: http://www.mastersathlete.com.au