A hairline that no longer recedes but recedes; a back covered with fat deposits; and a radio that only tunes in to Ken Bruce and The Archers. Yes, the passage of time can be a cruel beast. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a drop in cycling performance. Take the American Pat Warner, who in 2022 set a new master’s hour record of 51.013 km at the age of 52. And then there’s Alejandro Valverde, who continued racing with Movistar Team until he was 76 (well, 42). What age means is an adjustment of your training and nutrition strategies to get every last bit of strength, endurance and speed out of your slightly older body. Piqued interest? Well, read on to turn back the sands of time…
Revive your testosterone levels
The testosterone hormone is a unique cycling performance store. Not only does it preserve and increase lean muscle mass, but it has also been linked to improved cognitive function; helping to create red blood cells; greater bone density to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis; and accelerated recovery from a tough bike ride. No wonder Lance Armstrong, Floyd Llandis, Michael Rasmussen et al. they all included testosterone on their illegal ergogenic shopping list.
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Of course, men don’t need the needle to fill you with testosterone, as a large amount is produced in the testicles and, to a much lesser extent, in the ovaries of women. Or is it for a while. Then, starting at age 30, testosterone levels drop by 1% each year. It’s a key reason why sedentary people lose at least 5% of their muscle mass every decade after turning 30.
This age-related decline leads to cycling’s main drawback: at high levels of resistance training, studies have shown a 20-40% drop in resting testosterone levels. Why is not fully understood, but one theory is that it causes a resetting of the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis, resulting in a new low set point for circulating testosterone. A to study conducted at the 2011 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii highlighted this exercise-induced drop in testosterone, as of the 22 competing male athletes, only nine demonstrated serum testosterone concentrations that would normally be considered normal.
So as you get older, you get a double whammy of testosterone. Human growth hormone, which tells our cells to reproduce and grow, sees a disappointing age-related decline, falling back to around 1% per year. It’s enough to make you hang your wrinkled chamois…
Busy yourself to victory
Fortunately, there is help at hand in the form of weight training. Unlike high levels of resistance training which is catabolic (decreases muscle mass), strength training is anabolic, meaning it increases testosterone levels and builds muscle. That’s why cyclists over 40 and certainly over 50 will benefit from a couple of strength sessions each week. This might mean sacrificing a walk or two per week, but the benefits are unequivocal with studies showing that older athletes who train with weights have higher levels of testosterone, which ultimately leads to greater power . The key is to use the major muscle groups as this will stimulate more testosterone release, so for example squats work the quads and glutes.
In addition to strength training, or realistically instead of unless you have time slots available, it’s worth getting the pumps out and throwing yourself into the mix. Running is a high-impact activity. At sprint levels, this has been associated with higher testosterone levels. But at any intensity, it has been shown to improve bone density due to its weight-bearing nature. This is one of the reasons why running is becoming more popular in the pro peloton, with Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic running every day before a stage of the Tour de France. Israel-Premier Tech’s Mike Woods is another champion of the race, although perhaps that’s not surprising for a man who once ran for Canada and whose 1500m PB is 3:39:37 amazing (the world record is 3:26:00, set by Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco in 1998).
Just keep in mind that running is a little rough on your ligaments, tendons, muscles and joints getting used to the comfort of pedaling at home, so take it easy on the way back. Visit a running shop that has built a reputation for its knowledgeable staff, and ideally run as much off-road as you can, ideally in parks rather than wheeled farm tracks. The surface is much kinder to your structure.
While we’re on the subject of muscle mass, there is research that suggests that larger athletes will maintain better or even increase muscle mass by eating more protein. Studies determine the following as ideal: 0.4 g of protein per kilogram of body weight four to five times a day; one or two additional servings of dairy products (glass of milk, low-fat yogurt…) or nuts and seeds with each meal; and even 40g of casein protein before bed to maximize overnight synthesis rates. Good sources of protein are organic chicken and fish, eggs and tofu.
For women going through menopause, it is also advisable to consume a lot of dairy products to avoid the onset of osteoporosis, which can be stimulated by the hormonal changes of menopause.
Another nutritional strategy that could benefit the older cyclist is the use of creatine. In a 2015 study by protein guru Stuart Phillips, Phillips suggests that recommended creatine dosing strategies for older adults would be to consume 5g of creatine with some carbohydrates combined with a progressive resistance training program.
In the same study, Phillips also highlighted how omega-3s “may make skeletal muscle more sensitive to the anabolic effects of resistance exercise and nutrition,” resulting in improved protein synthesis. muscles and a better maintenance of muscle mass. He points to later research in which older women on fish oil following the same resistance program as the non-fish group showed greater improvements in strength, though Phillips also stressed that more research is needed before reaching the definitive conclusion that a daily fish oil supplement will stop age-related decline in muscle mass. Still, since numerous studies have shown that omega-3 fats help prevent heart disease and stroke, their proven benefits are certainly far greater than cycle performance.
Glucosamine should also be on your radar. Studies are inconclusive, but we’ve certainly heard anecdotally from older riders that applying a touch of structural lube helps ease creaking and stiffness as joints stiffen. Again, follow the daily recommendations and it won’t hurt.
As you age, there is also a tendency toward acid-base imbalance, meaning that the pH of your blood plasma deviates from the normal range of 7.35-7.45. This can further contribute to bone and muscle loss, so it’s a good idea to increase your consumption of alkaline foods like lots of vegetables.
Recover like a pro
However, possibly the biggest impact on riding like Valverde into your 50s, 60s and even 70s is what you do between rides, namely your recovery. Older athletes tend to take longer to recover between rides, which means a post-ride carb-protein shake is a must. Tart cherry supplementation is something seen on the dinner tables of most WorldTour teams, while beets are another snack known to help with muscle damage. You can try compression socks, though you’ll enjoy the superior recovery power of massage, which will flush out toxins, stretch muscles and relieve fatigue.
Complement the regular massage with foam rolling. Many of you will already use them or have been advised to do so, but they are now gathering dust with your Peloton. But for those new to the world of foam-based recovery, these rollers are plastic tubes covered in foam, which are usually smooth although some models feature ruffled areas.
At first glance, foam rollers couldn’t be simpler. Place the roller under the targeted area, apply body weight to the roller and, well, roll. But the key is that you get the right pressure. Too light and the result will be similar to stroking your leg; too difficult and you could make the situation worse. That’s why it’s worth asking your masseuse to show you how to use them correctly, as it’s hard to know what the optimal pressure to apply is.
Your best recovery tool, however, is sleep. Research suggests that aging athletes will benefit more from extensive sleep than when they were younger. The habit of banishing smart phones from the room, no caffeine in the afternoon and avoiding alcohol all help, but (a widespread generalization coming) with many older riders having more free time thanks to retirement and /or children leaving the nest, napping becomes a real prospect that will speed up recovery.
Naps have been used by such beloved figures as Albert Einstein and Napoleon. That’s because napping has been shown to restore alertness, improve performance, and reduce errors. A NASA study of military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
It’s been shown that if you can take a long enough nap, again, about 40 minutes, you release those hormones like testosterone and growth hormone that help repair and build muscle, but even naps shorter than 20 minutes they are beneficial for regaining alertness during a night. walk The good news with these shorter naps is that you don’t even have to fall asleep. Just let your mind wander, relax, and you’ll still enjoy the rejuvenating benefits.
So there you have it, with a few simple tweaks to your training and diet, the 50-year-old man who will soon leave you to the 20-year-old man. Just remember to monitor those testosterone levels, get squat a couple of times a week, up your protein and sleep for England. Come on, come on…