Note* This article focuses on men's health and is part of a presentation Coach A gave earlier this year to a men's group. You can sign up here if you'd like to watch the presentation.
We deal with two types of clients in our business, and although they seem different, they share many of the same qualities.
- Competitive Athletes
- Everyday Athletes
I use the term everyday athletes because although they may not compete in organized sports, they are still committed to going above and beyond to look and feel their best. They show up on time, train hard three days a week, eat correctly and take care of their health away from the gym. They don't believe they should slow down because they've aged a bit or accept that their best days are behind them.
And as a result, they're rewarded.
They feel great, have more energy, sleep soundly, are more productive at work, don't mind taking their shirt off, and the list goes on. Plus, training hard has some wonderful secondary benefits, such as mental resilience and stress management.
All that to say, you should train and take care of your health.
But where to start? As you age, there are many different factors to consider, here are just a few:
You are likely dealing with more overall stress than when you were younger from the responsibilities of work and family life.
You may have old injuries to deal with or present ones. Or both.
Your time is limited, and you can't spend hours at the gym as you may have been able to when you were younger.
Your metabolism has changed compared to your younger years.
With all that said, the process doesn't have to be complicated. We do our best to remove the noise around training and focus on the big rocks.
In today's article, I've broken our suggestions into three categories - Fuel, Train, and Recover - and offer three basic guidelines for each.
Nutrition has always been and will always be the backbone of our training programs.
It is very hard to gain muscle, decrease fat, and create real change without a proper diet. Fortunately, that doesn't mean you have to eat plain boiled chicken and broccoli. But following basic nutrition guidelines around macronutrients, micronutrients, and meal timing will help you reach your goals.
These are our three keys to nutrition.
TRACK YOUR FOOD
It's worth tracking your food for at least a few weeks.
There's a management quote – often attributed to Peter Drucker - that "what gets measured gets managed. He was referring to items inside a business, but diet is the same. It's hard to assess or change your food habits if you aren't aware of them. So we have our athletes track what they're eating, when they're eating it, and how they feel after.
Tracking is even more important if you are trying to increase or decrease your body weight. Changing your body weight requires adjusting how many calories you consume and what type. Questions like, 'Am I hitting my protein goals" become easier to answer when you've tracked the whole day of eating.
We'd suggest the apps Chronometer or MyFitnessPal keep everything in one easy-to-access place. Then, after 2-3 weeks of tracking, you'll better understand your current diet habits and how to improve them.
We're excited when we start a program, and it's easy to follow our diet to a tee.
As time goes on, we settle into a routine that can feel restrictive, and we start to be less disciplined with our diet.
That's completely normal!
Fitness is a spectrum, and we ebb and flow throughout our lifetime. It's unrealistic to expect to stay in stage-ready shape - when bodybuilders are about to compete -at all times.
We use the 80/20 rule with our clients. Our goal is to follow the program 80 percent of the time. The remaining 20 percent of the time is for indulgences and variations. This percentage seems to be enough to keep moving toward our goals, and we often see clients follow the program better because they have the option for individual freedom.
It's also a helpful rule around holidays and vacations.
After one cheat meal, we tend to throw away the whole day, or week, making it hard to get back on track. The 80/20 rule can help us decide what to order and when to indulge. Instead of getting off our diet for the whole meal, we stay consistent during the appetizers and mains. Then as a treat, we enjoy a dessert.
NO DRINKS ON SCHOOL NIGHTS
It is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but this tip has a ton of value.
Alcohol is terrible for any fitness or performance goal. It decreases muscle protein synthesis (the ability to build muscle). It's bad for our hormones. It slows down our metabolism and reduces our ability to lose body fat. We'll talk about testosterone below, but alcohol tanks it as well.
It sounds harsh, but there aren't any real alcohol benefits related to performance.
Alcohol does, however, have a lot of emotion tied up in it—friends, family, events, work outings, etc. We're not telling anyone what to do. But, if your health is your priority avoiding alcohol on school nights (Sun – Thurs) can go a long way in avoiding a lot of empty calories.
We're known for our training programs, and we're proud of it. Every member of the team loves to train so here are our top 3 tips:
It should be no surprise that lifting weights is at the top of our to-do list. That's because you need to do it.
There are about 1000 reasons why but here are five reasons why men over 50 should lift weights.
Boost Testosterone Production
Testosterone is important. Really important. It is responsible for everything from mood to bone density to red blood cell levels.
Unfortunately, a New England Research Institute study showed it's on the decline. We, the present generation of men, have less testosterone than our forefathers. That's a scary thought!
What's causing the drop? In general, levels drop by 1% every year after 30. Add an unhealthy lifestyle, and the decline becomes much worse. Fortunately, lifting weights can help to mitigate this drop-off. Plus a few other things we'll talk about later.
There is a saying in the performance community that muscle is the organ of longevity. Having enough lean muscle mass allows us to move freely as we age, and movement is essential for health. Lean muscle mass alos reduces our overall inflammation and increases our ability to detoxify our body—better detoxification = fewer chronic health issues.
Decrease Injury Risk
If you're over 50, chances are that you've had an injury. You might even have one right now. It's frustrating and can seem like nothing will help it go away.
Injuries, especially chronic ones, often lead to compensations elsewhere in the body that can be a serious problem over time. Strength training can help address these postural issues before they become a much bigger problem.
Even if you've avoided any injuries up to this point, it's better to try and prevent one than wait to it to happen.
Improve Athletic Performance
If you're reading this, you are likely active in recreational sports – hockey, golf, soccer, etc. Although there may be less on the line than when you were younger, it doesn't hurt to improve. After all, sports are more fun when you're winning. A quality strength program can add 15-20 yards to your drive on the first hole or give you the energy to race to a loose puck.
Look Better Without a Shirt
The performance industry will often avoid talking about aesthetics. But just because your goal is performance doesn't mean you can't look good with your shirt off. Fortunately, building an athletic body and looking good go hand in hand. Just take a look at the next 100m Olympic final.
Take the Stairs
How often have you heard "take the stairs' cited as a way to get healthier? It seems like such a small thing, but when you do it several times a day, it adds up.
There is a term in the exercise science world called NEAT, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It's a fancy term for all the energy you use apart from sleeping, eating or sports-like activities. NEAT can include anything from walking to yard work to fidgeting.
Why is NEAT so important?
Training has a cap. There are only so many calories you can burn in the gym.
If you're like most people, the session is 60 minutes in length, leaving another 23 hours in the day. NEAT will account for the rest of the calories you burn/the health you achieve. Taking a couple of long walks during the day can do wonders for your physical health. Plus, you get a nice mental boost.
This last point isn't so much an action as it is a mental state necessary for success.
Good programming matters, but a subpar program you follow will do more for you than flying off the cuff every time you step into the gym.
Like nutrition, what gets tracked gets improved, so we suggest always heading to the gym with a plan. Keep your training consistent for 3-4 weeks so you can track your weights and reps to measure progress.
There are lots of apps that help you rack your workouts, but something as basic as a notebook can be all you need to set yourself up for success.
Nutrition and training are two aspects of health that nearly everyone understands the value of, at least in theory.
Recovery, on the other hand, is both misunderstood and underutilized.
We find ourselves reminding the athletes we work with that rest is a weapon over and over again. Training hard is only effective if we can recover enough in between to stack a series of good workouts together.
Recovery is a broad term, so I've focused on what I believe are the three most important recovery methods.
Sleep is the best performance-enhancing drug in the world.
It's so basic that athletes don't believe us when we tell them until we pull out a few studies and stats.
Sleep is even more important as we age. This is because as we age, our sleep efficiency – how well we sleep – decreases, and we require more sleep for the same amount of recovery.
Here are a few surprising stats from Dr. Mathew Walker, an expert on sleep.
Sleep Impact on Training
- You will feel less full and hungrier when you under-sleep. On average, people ate 300 calories more when undersleeping in one study. Sweets cravings can also increase by roughly 40%.
- When on a diet, less sleep equals an increase in loss of lean body mass and less fat loss compared to healthy sleep.
- Limiting sleep to 5 hours a night for a week decreases men's testosterone by a staggering amount. You could consider it "aging you 10-15 years".
As you can see, sleep is key to increasing muscle mass and decreasing fat mass. But, unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's easy to get enough shut-eye. Everyone knows the feeling of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.
We suggest you follow a basic sleep routine to help with your sleep goals.
- Wake Up at the Same Time – Wake up at the same time every day. Our circadian rhythm – when we feel awake versus tired – is set by when we wake up, not when we go to bed. So, keep your wake-up time consistent, and your body will adjust. It might be challenging to get to sleep on time at the start. But you'll begin to feel tired at the right time after a few days as your internal clock resets.
- Turn Down the Temp – We need a cool room for the best possible sleep, ideally somewhere around 18 Celsius or 64 Fahrenheit. This is part of the reason it's tough to sleep well in hotel rooms, as they are always so warm.
- Black Out the Room – We sleep best in complete darkness. Unfortunately, the average home is full of light, both inside and outside, that can interrupt our sleep. Invest in black-out blinds if you're able, and turn off all electronics in the room during sleep. An eye mask can be a worthwhile investment if you're unable to control your environment.
Breathing is another recovery hack that costs nothing but has enormous benefits.
We sometimes get funny – skeptical – looks when we speak with our athletes about the importance of breathing. It's something we've done our whole life without thinking about it, so how can it help recovery?
Have you ever noticed how your breathing changes based on what's going on in your life? For example, how you breathe lying on a beach in Mexico is very different than in the middle of a challenging workout.
Because during those different experiences, your body is in two separate states.
Beach - Parasympathetic (Rest & Digest) - This is a relaxed recovery state. Your body is spending energy to repair and build up its systems.
Workout - Sympathetic (Fight, Flight, or Freeze) – This is an action-stressed state. Your body is ready to respond to a threat.
Both of these states are important, and we need to be able to switch between them.
Most of us get stuck in Fight, Flight or Freeze, unable to transition. The reason for this is quite interesting. Our body views all stress the same: angry work email, cut off in traffic, hard workout, or bear attack. It can't differentiate, so anytime something happens shifts into a stressed state.
We need to manually shift into a Rest & Digest state if we're going to recover from training and the stress of the day. That's where breathing comes in.
We can alter our state based on our breath, using it to slow down our system. We'd suggest doing it at the end of the day to calm down and promote sleep or midday if you feel like things are spinning away from you.
Made famous by the Navy Seals, it's one of the more basic breathing routines to remember and one of our favourites.
4 Second Inhale
4 Second Hold/Pause
4 Second Exhale
4 Second Hold/Pause
Find a Manual Therapist
Our first two tips for recovery are things you can do independently. Our last one involves finding qualified help.
Most clients think about finding a therapist after an injury—someone to help with rehab. We want to shift that mindset.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Almost 300 years later, B. Franklin's quote still rings true.
Finding a good manual therapist is a lot like a good mechanic. You bring the car – your body – in for regular service, and you avoid breaking down on the side of the road when it's the most inconvenient.
If you're unsure where to find a good therapist, ask your trainer or people in your network. Don't be afraid to try out different therapists until you find someone who understands your body and what you need.
Once you find the right person, view it like the barber and plan to come in regularly. Your body will thank you.
We hope these tips are helpful. There's no reason why you have to slow down as you age. It requires focus and commitment to your health and performance, but the effort is well worth it.