Masters Athletes Not Too Savvy on Nutritional Recovery


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.


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:

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:

Beta-Alanine: An Amino Acid of Interest to Veteran Athletes

Sleep, Recovery and Sports Performance


Recovery is equally as important as training to achieve our best performances in sport. Sleep is a critical recovery strategy that many family- and career-focused masters athletes tend to negate. Here are some tips from a recently published review of the available research on how to improve your sleeping habits.

Sleep and Sports Performance

Research on young athletes has shown that when they sleep more they perform better and feel healthier. Not surprsing really given that research has shown that sleep is the ranked as the most important problem among athletes of any age when asked to identify their main causes of fatigue and tiredness.

In young athletes, it is suggested 7-9 hours of sleep is needed to ensure adequate physical and psychological recovery from training. Even more sleep is suggested during periods of injury, when travelling or during heavy training or in competition.

Napping of around 30 minutes has been suggested to help 20m sprint performance and alertness in sleep-deprived athletes, especially if taken just after lunch. So when in competition, think about a nap after lunch if you’ve had trouble sleeping the night before a major event.

As previously presented in this website, encouraging young athletes to get more sleep improved sprint performance, shooting accuracy and and feelings of wellbeing in young basketballers. Strategies to improve both the quality and quantity of sleep include:

  1. Maintain a regular sleep scedule of when you wake up and when you go to bed.
  2. If you can’t sleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, get up and do something that doesn’t require high level thinking – read, watch TV, meditate.
  3. Get rid of the bedroom clock.
  4. Avoid coffee, tobacco and alcohol in the hours before bed.
  5. Nap just after lunch not in the late afternoon.
  6. Maintain a cool (approx 18 degree C) room temperature.
  7. Don’t eat/drink large quantities of food or drink before bed.

When on a flight and wanting to sleep try:

  1. Ajusting your watch to the time zone you are travelling to.
  2. Use pillows to create a comfortable sleeping space.
  3. Use eyeshades and ear plugs.
  4. Avoid coffee, tobacco and alcohol.
  5. Eat meals to the destination schedule.
  6. Drink water regularly.

Sleep Recommendations for Athletes

1. Amount of Sleep: Suggested to be 7-9 hours in young athletes with young athleets in heavy training 4-6 hours a day suggested to get between 10-12 hours a night. It’s been a myth for years that the older we get the less sleep we need so it appears reasonable that we should be ensuring we get as much sleep as possible when in training. Not easy with family and careers!

2. Regular Routine and Sleep Habits: Having a regular sleep routine is key. Avoiding watching TV or using a computer in bed.

3. Napping: Naps of less than 30 minutes in duration taken just after lunch appear to improve performance and thinking. Avoid late afternoon or early evening naps.

4. Use recovery strategies after training or competition: Chapter 15 in my book examines in great detail the exact methods athletes need to recover after training or competition. These include nutrition, cold water immersion, ice baths and compression garments.

5. Lower Anxiety Before Sleeping: Life has it’s own stressors, especially with family, relationships and careers being juggled with training for a goal. Research has consistently shown, as life experience has, that stress lowers sleep quality and quantity. Relaxing before bed with a book, meditation, imagery, and/or self-talk can all help lower anxiety levels. Letting go of muscular tension by closing the eyes, focusing on breathing slowly and deeply, then progressively relaxing the muscles at top of the head, the forehead, face, neck, back, abdomen, arms, stomach, hips, legs, feet can help.

So What?

Both the quality and quantity of sleep are important in maximising both training and playing performance in athletes. As highlighted in Chapter 15 (Recovery Strategies for the Masters Athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete, sleep is crucial for recovery, performance, and maximising the immune system in older athletes. The same chapter in my book lists the above key strategies and others for getting a good night’s sleep and highlights which recovery strategies science says work and how to use them. Indeed, from a health perspective, research has shown that getting between 7-9 hours sleep a night is crucial for longevity and prevention of some chronic diseases, yet another reason we aging athletes need to get a good night’s sleep. Click here to read more.


1. Bird, S. (2013). Sleep, recovery, and athletic performance: a brief review and recommendations. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35(5): 43-47.

2. Mah, C. and others (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7): 943-950.

Masters Athletes Aren’t Recovering Smart


Using recovery strategies after training and racing means we bounce back quicker for the next training session or race. Most elite younger athletes eat and drink the right stuff straight after races or training, they get massages and use the methods science has shown work, such as compression garments or ice baths. As part of a series of PhD projects my research team are undertaking at CQUniversity, we’ve just completed an online survey examining the use of recovery practices in Queensland veteran cyclists. The results were recently presented at the 2013 American College of Sports Medicine Conference in the USA where one of my postgrads won the International Student Scholar Award – a very proud supervisor I was! The results shocked us! Very few vet cyclists use recovery strategies!

The Research and Results

Using an online survey and the support of Cycling Queensland, we got responses from 212 veteran cyclists over the age of 35 years. To our surprise, 47% of both male and female veteran cyclists do not using any form of recovery strategy after racing or training.  The percentage of users did not differ between genders.  In order of use, the following recovery methods were used by the vets as a group:

  1. Stretching (40% of riders)
  2. Carbohydrate-protein mix (38%)
  3. Active recovery (35%)
  4. High glycemic index foods within 30 minutes of exercise (29%)
  5. Massage (25%)
  6. Compression garments (25%)
  7. Hot-cold showers (19%)
  8. Ice baths (7%)
  9. Pool running (6%)
  10. Spa baths (5%)

Other strategies were used including ‘beers’ and one response that we can all relate to at times –  3 double-shot lattes, a lay down on the couch and hoping not to cramp-up!!

The So What?

Our research strongly suggests that both male and female veteran cyclists are poor users of recovery strategies following both training and competition. Using these scientifically-proven methods of recovery is critical to enable us to bounce back between training days or between races on the same or subsequent days.  For specific details (e.g. water temperatures, times to hold stretches or have hot/cold showers, what specific foods to eat etc etc) on how to recover using all the methods outlined above, see chapter 15 of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Reaburn, P. and others (2013). Poor Use Of Post-exercise Recovery Strategies In Veteran Cyclists: An Australian Study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(5): S71.


Rain affects performance in the cold

Environmental factors such as heat and cold, humidity, wind and altitude influence the performance of athletes young and old, especially endurance athletes. While their have been plenty of studies examining the effects of these factors on performance, little research has ever been done to examine the effects of rain on performance, especially in the cold. The present study aimed to determine energy metabolism while running in cold, wet conditions using a climatic chamber that precisely simulated rainy conditions.

The Research

Seven healthy (trained 3 times per week) men (23.3 ± 2.9 years; 168.6 ± 7.5 cm; 65.9 ± 8.1 kg; VO2max 52.0 ± 5.7 mL/kg/min) ran on a treadmill at 70 % VO2 (about 82% max heart rate) intensity for 30 min in a climatic chamber at an air temperature of 5°Celsius in the presence or absence of 40 mm/hr of very heavy rain. Expired air, oxygen consumption, oesophageal (down the throat and into the gut) temperature, heart rate, skin temperature, rating of perceived exertion and blood samples (lactate, glucose, adrenalin [stress hormone] and noradrenalin [increases heart rate]) were measured before the 30 min run and every 10 minutes of the 30 min test.

The Results

Oesophageal (body) temperature and average skin temperature were significantly lower in the rain condition than in the non-rain run. The amount of air breathed per minute, oxygen consumption used during the run, and levels of blood lactate and noradrenalin were significantly higher in rain. In conclusion, the higher oxygen consumption and plasma lactate in rain indicated that energy demand increases when running in cold and wet conditions.

So What?

This study is one of the first to suggest that rain has a strong effect on endurance performance, especially in the cold. The higher blood lactate, higher oxygen consumption and ventilation volumes all suggest that glycogen energy stores will be used up more quickly too. This suggests making sure that if we race or train hard in the cold (and wet), that we carbohydrate load well before training or racing, replace carbs during longer (> one hour) training and racing, and ensure we replace carbs more aggressively after training and racing to recover.

For more specific ‘bridging the gap’ tips on training in the cold or heat see chapter 11 of my book The Masters Athlete. For more on carbohydrates before, during and after training or racing, see chapter 16 of The Masters Athlete.

Source: Ito, R. and others (2013) Effects of rain on energy metabolism while running in a cod environment. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(8): 707-711.