Supplements That Research Suggest Work in Older Athletes


Most masters athletes I know are competitive. Some like to win medals, most love doing PB’s or beating their friends at events they’ve trained together for. Some like to achieve goals they didn’t think were possible before they discovered they can do great things if they are smart about their training and listen hard to their bodies.

Most of us will also look for an advantage if it’s legal and available. For example, we know caffeine can help improve our endurance performance, that creatine (monohydrate) can help us recover between efforts if we are involved with team sports, and that sports drinks help us during endurance events longer than an hour in length, especially in the heat.

A recent review published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition has examined what ergogenic (performance-enhancing) dietary aids such as the above substances may be useful in older people. They reviewed 327 articles to come up with their list of what works in older folk. Here is what they concluded works.

  1. Creatine is made up of amino acids from our body and produced naturally in the liver. It is also naturally available from meat and fish we eat. It is also one of the most widely available and used supplements that does enhance performance in athletes that do repeated efforts of high intensity such as team players or when doing weight training or repeat sprints in training. It has also been shown to enhance muscle size in weight trainers both young and old. A number of studies on older people have shown that taking creatine at the dose of 0.3 mg / kg body weight for 5-14 days with or without weight training can increase muscle mass and strength and power. Similar studies examined creatine effects in older endurance cyclists and found no improvement in cycling performance suggesting that it’s only speed, strength and power and not endurance that’s improved with creatine supplementation. Creatine iscommonly sold in gyms, health food shops and chemists but should be used with caution in masters athletes with kidney issues.
  2. Caffeine  is one of the most well-studied ergogenic (work-enhancing) aids. It increases attention and improves endurance when taken in dosages between 4-6 mg / kg body weight (One No Doz tablet contains 100 mg and a cup of coffee between 50-100 mg. Click here for exact amounts of caffeine per product. Only one study has examined the effect of caffeine on performance in people over 60 years. They were given capsules of caffeine at the dose of 6 mg/kg of body weight and performed exercise 1 hr later. The had better endurance, less perceived effort, and greater strength compared to a placebo (no caffeine) trial.
  3. Caffeine/Creatine combination appears to have promise to enhance sprinting power – at least in young athletes. One study showed improved sprinting power when taking creatine (0.3 gm / kg body weight for 5 days) then caffeine (6 mg /kg body weight) an hour before sprint running.
  4. HMB (beta-hydroxy-betamethylbutyrate) That’s why it’s know as HMB! is derived from a naturally occuring amino acid called leucine. It’s used by young athletes to increase muscle size and strength. research has shown that consuming HMB between 250 mg / day and 6 gm / day increased cycling performance but the effect is greater in previously untrained people. In one study with 70 yr olds doing weight training twice a week they improved strength in some exercises but not others. No known side effects have been observed in people consuming between 3 and 6 gm / day.
  5. Ubiquinone (Co-enzyme Q10) helps generate aerobic energy in the muscle cell’s power house, the mitochondria. Some research has shown benefits of supplementing (100 mg / day) with it at the end of weight training sessions. The one study that did use older people (60-74 years) and compared them with 22-38 year olds showed no age or cycling performance differences when supplementing at 120 mg day for 6 weeks.
  6. Carnitine is an amino acid that helps us burn fat in those mitochondria pwer houses in our muscle cells. In young swimmers, taking 2 gm of carnitine twice a day for a week has been shown to increase epeat 5 x 100m swim performance. While no studies have been done in older athletes, a couple of carnitine supplementation studies (2 gm / day for periods over 6 weeks or more) showed reduce feelings of fatigue and six-minute walk time in non-athletes over age 65 years.
  7. Resveratrol is found in red grapes (and red wine but in smaller amounts), mulberries and peanuts.  In older rats it’s been shown to enhance endurance performance. No exercise-related studies have been done in humans. However, health-wise it’s been suggested but not proven to have cardioprotective and anti-diabetes benefits in humans.

So What?

Limited research has been done in the area of ergogenic aids and masters athletes. However, it appears that, similar to younger athletes, caffeine and creatine, especially in combination, may have beneficial effects in sprinters while caffeine in the right dosage and timed correctly can benefit endurance performance. Finally, creatine appears to benefit strength and power-based athletes or team sport players who have to repeat speed during a game.

For more detailed reading on what legal ergogenic aids work in athletes young and old, including the dosages, timing and side-effects, read Chapter 18 of my book The Masters Athlete titled Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete.

Source: Cherniak, E.P. (2012). Ergogenic dietary aids for the elderly. Nutrition, 28: 225-229.

Preventing Cancer – Research Gives 6 Tips

A New Supplement with Promise for Masters Athletes Health and Performance


I’m not one for pushing supplements. There are just too many on the market that, to be honest, are ‘crap’ but get great coverage and uptake because the marketing gurus make you believe they will work through getting elite athlete testimonials or endorsements. We need the knowledge and skills to be able to ‘sift through the crap’ and to have those ‘automatic crap detectors’ up at all times. But here is some research published in a well-respected journal that suggests beta-alanine supplementation in older healthy people improves time to exhaustion and endurance capacity.

The Research

The aim of this collaborative Brazilian, UK and American study was to investigate the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise capacity and the muscle carnosine content in elderly subjects. Carnosine is made up of two amino acid building blocks (beta-alanine and histidine) and highly concentrated in muscles. Carnosine is known as a powerful antioxidant and also for buffering the acidity of muscles. It is thus important for athletes who need both a strong antioxidant system and, in hard training or racing, to buffer the effects of changes in muscle acidity. Carnosine is lacking in athletes on vegetarian diets because the major food sources of beta-alanine and carnosine are poultry, beef and fish. Carnosine also decreases in concentration with aging. In this study, 18 healthy elderly male and female subjects (60–80 years) were randomly assigned to receive either beta-alanine (BA, n = 12) or placebo (PL, n = 6) for 12 weeks. The BA group received 3.2 g of beta-alanine per day (2 × 800 mg sustained-release Carnosyn™ tablets, given 2 times per day after lunch and dinner) for 12 weeks. The PL group received 2 × (2 × 800 mg) of a matched placebo so each subject, and the researchers, did not know what they were taking. Before and after the 12-weeks of supplementation, assessments were made of the muscle carnosine content, exercise capacity on a treadmill, muscle function, quality of life, physical activity and food intake.

The Results

After the 12 weeks of supplementation, there was a significant increase in the muscle carnosine content of the calf muscle in the beta-alanine group (+85.4%) when compared with the placebo group (+7.2%). Crucially, the time-to-exhaustion in the constant-load sub maximal treadmill test was significantly improved in the beta-alanine group (+36.5%) compared to the placebo group (+8.6%). Significant positive correlations (relationships) were also shown between the relative change in the muscle carnosine content and the relative change in the tests of endurance capacity. In summary, the results showed for the first time that beta-alanine supplementation may be effective in increasing the muscle carnosine content in healthy elderly subjects, with subsequent improvement in their exercise capacity.

So What?

One cloud that some could say hangs over this study is that the beta-alanine was provided by the manufacturers of the product used in the project (CarnosynTM). However, the study has been peer-reviewed, published in a respected scientific journal and created strong interest from sport scientists I know. As with anything like this, try it and see if it works for you. There has been shown to be minimal side-effects if used in recommended dosages.

Finally, in all matters related to supplements, check out these excellent and authoritative sources and book mark them for future use. They will tell you what science says about all supplements.

  1. Australian Institute of Sport Nutrition Supplement Program
  2. America’s National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

 For more on the supplements that have been shown to work and exactly how to use them, see Chapter 18 (Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: del Favaro, S. et al. (2011) Beta-alanine (Carnosyn™) supplementation in elderly subjects (60–80 years): effects on muscle carnosine content and physical capacity. Amino Acids, Published Online 6th December, 2011, DOI: 10.1007/s00726-011-1190-x.

Popular Supplements May Increase Death Risk


A recent study of almost 40,000 older women examined the association between vitamin and mineral supplement use and death rates.  The study showed that some common supplements appear to actually increase the risk of dying. Finnish and American scientists found that multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were all associated with increased risk of death in older women. Conversely, they found that the use of calcium reduced the risk of death.

The Research

38,772 older women from the Iowa Women’s Health Study were surveyed on their vitamin and mineral supplementation practices in 1984 (average age 61.6 years), 1997, and 2004. Through to the end of 2008, deaths were identified through the State and National authorities with 40.2% of the original women having died. The statistical analyses adjusted for levels of education, health risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, smoking status and levels of physical activity.

The Results

The use of multivitamins increased the risk of death by 2.4%, vitamin B6 by 4.1%, folic acid by 5.9%, iron by 3.9%, magnesium by 3.6%, zinc by 3.0% and copper by 18.0% when compared to non-use. In contrast, use of calcium decreased risk of death by 3.8%.

So What?

Given that more than 30% of adults from high-income countries like ours take vitamin and mineral supplements, these results strongly suggest that eating a well-balanced and more natural diet emphasising a range of coloured natural foods is the way to go. The researchers in this study concluded that they see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements. However, they do suggest that they be used with a medically-based cause such as symptomatic nutrient deficiencies. Bottom line is ensure that you eat a well-balanced diet that takes into account your age, health status, training intensity and volume. If in doubt, visit an accreditted sports dietitian.

Source: Mursu, J. and others. (2011). Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 171: 1625-1633.

Chocolate Milk for Recovery? – I Like That Idea!


There has been a lot written about the importance of recovery nutrition in athletes young and old. Historically, it was all about taking in high glycemic index food or fluids within 30 minutes of finishing training or racing. Then sport science found that adding protein in a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio enhanced recovery and muscle repair. Big business jumped in and developed new products to make it easier for athletes to enhance their recovery and make it easier to back up for training or racing the next day or even the same day. Now some recent recent research is suggesting commercially-available flavoured milk might just do the trick.

The Research

After determing their cycling VO2max and 40 k cycling time trial performance, ten (5 male, 5 female) trained cyclists and triathletes aged 18-39 years visited the lab on three separate occasions  after an overnight fast. On each of the three visist they cycled at 70% of their VO2max for 90 minutes (hard work) then 10  minutes of alternating one-minute  intervals at 40% of VO2max then 90% of VO2max. This protocol was designed to deplete their muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. They then recovered in the lab for 4 hrs and received one of three treatments immediately after the glycogen-depleting bike ride and then again 2 hrs into the 4 hr recovery.  Muscle biopsies were taken immediately after the glycogen depleting ride and at 45 and 240 minutes into recovery. The three types of recovery drinks (see table below) were a commercially-available chocolate milk, a carbohydrate drink matched for energy content, and a placebo drink made up of some artifical sweetener and flavouring.

Table 1: Energy and composition of recovery drinks (per 100 mL)

Ingredient Chocolate Milk Carbohydrate Drink Placebo
Carbohydrate (grams) 11.5 15.2 0
Protein (grams) 3.7 0 0
Fat (grams) 2.1 2.1 0
Energy (Calories) 79.1 79.1 0
Ratio Carb : Protein 3.12 : 1

They then did a 40k time trial on the bike to see which recovery drink improved 40k time trial performance the best.

The Results

The 40 k time trial was faster after using the chocolate milk recovery drink (79.4±2.1 min) than the carbohydrate (85.7±3.4 min) or placebo (86.9±3.3 min) drinks. Muscle carbohydrate (glycogen) resynthesis after the four hour recovery was higher in both the chocolate milk and carbohydrate compared to the placebo condition but not different between the two carbohydrate drinks. Crucially, the cholcolate milk containing the protein and carbohydrate increased protein synthesis markers (suggesting muscle recovery) to higher levels than both the carbohydrate and placebo drinks at 45 minutes into recovery.

So What?

The results of this study strongly suggest that taking a carbohydrate-protein drink after hard training or racing can improve subsequent performance and provide a greater stimulus for muscle repair and adaptation compared to carbohydrate drinks alone or plain water. This is why I use products such as Accelerade or PureSport after hard training or racing. They work, particularly when combined with all the other recovery strategies discussed in detail in Chapter 15 of  my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Ferguson-Stegall, L. and others (2011). Postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signaling for protein synthesis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(5): 1210-1224.