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Benefits of Additional Protein Intake by Masters Athletes

This is an excerpt from High-Performance Nutrition for Masters Athletes by Lauren Antonucci.

New research has demonstrated that older adults (70-85 years old) were able to increase lean body mass, muscle strength, and muscle power following a six-month trial that included supervised and progressive resistance training three times a week as well as 40 grams per day of whey protein supplement (Chalé et al. 2012).

In chapter 6 we will discuss at length the extent to which protein intake needs to be altered as we age in order to increase our ability to perform high-intensity and resistance training throughout our lifetime and thus increase and preserve lean muscle mass. There, you will learn to overcome age-related decline with muscle-building protein. See figure 2.1 for a pictorial description of the importance of protein.

Figure 2.1 Protein needs and utilization in Masters athletes.
Figure 2.1 Protein needs and utilization in Masters athletes. Based on Strasser et al. (2018).

Promising research on preserving lean body mass (LBM) in older adults was done by Kalapotharakos, Diamantopoulos, and Tokmakidis in 2010. Their study demonstrated an ability in men older than 80 years to improve strength and functional performance after an eight-week resistance exercise program. It seems that it really is never too late to start. Their work also supported the fact that a significant percentage of strength gains were lost after only six weeks of detraining. So the old adage “Use it or lose it” applies at all ages. This is another important reminder for all seasonal athletes who train and race or compete themselves into the ground during their peak training season, then take two to three months completely off. As you can imagine, this is not a great long-term plan. It is important to continue to be active and to include both endurance and resistance training exercises all year long—even different sports and other off-season activities—in order to reap the physiological benefits of training.

One major worry or complaint I hear from my Masters athlete clients in my nutrition practice has to do with their decreasing caloric needs and subsequent unwanted weight gain with age and inactivity. We will continue to explore this topic throughout this book, but for now, know that the negative feedback loop between decreased exercise, decreased muscle mass, and decreased energy needs can be partially interrupted with optimal fueling to allow for continued intense training and maintenance of muscle mass and LBM throughout our lifetime. This is of course good news for athletes, but it also bodes well for overall health and longevity, because increased muscle mass and strength may lead to decreases in fall risk and our ability to perform activities of daily living and to prolong independence as we advance in age.

More Excerpts From High Performance Nutrition for Masters Athletes