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More women than ever are running as so-called senior grand masters—think Japan’s Mariko Yugeta, who ran a 2:52:13 marathon last January at age 62. With work and family responsibilities shifting, you may have more time to train, meaning your golden decades can represent some of your prime running years.
Combining your miles with strength training gives you the best odds of offsetting the ongoing decline in muscle mass, says Lauren Antonucci, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of High Performance Nutrition For Masters Athletes. For best results, support those resistance moves with more protein, more often.
Your hydration needs begin to shift too. For one thing, your sense of thirst may no longer reliably tell you when it’s time to drink. Your kidneys work less efficiently at filtering urine. All this combines to increase your risk of dehydration—and, if you do become parched, it’s harder to restore your fluid balance.
And though running reduces your risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, genetics and other risk factors mean athletes aren’t immune. In some cases, medications you take to manage these conditions mean the nutrition for older adults requires additional fine-tuning.
Nutrition for Older Adults in Your 60s and Beyond
Amp Up the Anti-Inflammatories
While there’s no evidence running causes arthritis or knee pain, some older athletes do experience aching, especially if they have a history of injury. Calm flares with antioxidant-rich foods like berries, healthy omega-3 fats from foods like walnuts, and natural supplements like turmeric. Yes, your doctor may sometimes prescribe or recommend the short-term use of pain-relieving drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen. But food sources work holistically to address the root causes of inflammation with fewer side effects.
Figure Out Your Fluids
The amount of water you need depends on the climate, your training, and individualized sweat rate. Step on a scale before and after a short workout, and keep track of the fluids you consume during it. The weight you lost, plus fluid consumed, is the amount you need to replenish. Do this several times per training cycle, especially as the weather changes.
Pack In More Protein
The older you get, the more of this muscle-building material your body needs to thrive, says dietitian nutritionist Yasi Ansari. Runners in this age range should aim for closer to 35 grams per meal, and at least one protein-rich snack. Research suggests spreading protein throughout the day best improves muscle mass.
Check Your Meds
Certain blood pressure and heart medications make it harder to stay hydrated and maintain the proper balance of electrolytes. Proton pump inhibitors for stomach problems reduce the absorption of some vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. Read labels carefully, and check with your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian about planning your diet around your pills.
Boost Your B12
Vitamin B12 makes red blood cells and keeps your brain and nervous system buzzing along, but your body absorbs it less efficiently with age. As a result, close to one in five older adults runs short. Because it’s only available in animal products, vegetarians and vegans face an even higher risk. Get your blood levels checked, especially if you have symptoms like weakness, mood changes, or numbness in your hands and feet.