Once you're over 35, you're in a new category of athletics called Masters Athletics. Masters Athletics includes road running, track and field, and cross-country running. But running as a high-performing masters athlete is slightly different than when you were in your 20s and early 30s. You can still set goals and beat your PRs while also falling back into running, but you have to put more intention into your approach to be successful.
Running as a Masters Athlete
When designing your training, honestly ask yourself what you can handle. Be realistic and decide on achievable weekly volume goals. Take into account your work schedule, family life, and other priority events. Insert a Plan B in your schedule for days when you may not be able to complete your regular 10k, but a 5k is doable.
Ask a Pro
If you have a goal you've never achieved before, such as running a marathon after a track and field career, enlist a coach's help. A professional can help you build your own running base and create a program to achieve your goals without overtraining or injuring yourself.
Accept and Adjust
It's inevitable (and no secret) that we're getting older! It's natural. That doesn't mean you can't be a successful Masters Athlete. It means your times might be slower than when you were 25, and you need a training regimen to accommodate your strengths and weaknesses.
Nutrition as a Masters Runner
When you're younger, you can get away with a less-than-optimal diet and still perform well on your runs (and even maintain a lower weight naturally). As a Masters Athlete, good nutrition is much more important for your workouts and recovery.
You need to be more conscientious about your food choices and focus heavily on clean eating. Work with a nutritionist to focus on your nourishment goals to enhance your performance. This make take some trial and error.
There is a direct link between eating too much sugar and getting high cholesterol, gaining weight, and having your brain shrink. Reducing the amount of sugar you consume is probably the most important change you can make to your diet as a Masters Athlete. So, for your overall health and running performance as a master's athlete, be mindful of sugar intake.
What you eat as a masters runner directly impacts your body's ability to recover from the consistent wear and tear it experiences from training. Antioxidants and phytochemicals are very important for making up for the damage that stress does to cells.
Blueberries, grapes, citrus, nuts, and sweet potatoes are all high in antioxidants and are great foods for masters athletes to consume. Some highly nutritious foods that contain beneficial phytochemicals include brussels sprouts, beets, avocados, cantaloupe, peaches, and plums.
While the research in this area is not conclusive, there is some evidence that suggests nitrates may help in decreasing age-related muscle decline. So don't be afraid to eat some delicious beets, spinach, celery, and even iceberg lettuce!
While your protein needs may not be as great as a Masters weightlifter, adequate protein intake is still a very important part of a Masters Athlete's muscle strength and recovery.
As a Masters runner, you should consume approximately 0.25-0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight five times daily. Another way to calculate it is 1.2 grams per kilogram over the entire day. If you do a lot of resistance training, lean towards 0.4 grams for optimal recovery.
Choose whole food sources first over protein powders and supplements, but a powder is better than nothing if you need help to meet your protein goals.
Supplements for Masters Runners
To be clear, nutritional supplements cannot replace a wholesome, healthy diet. However, as we age, we become susceptible to more illnesses, and our immune systems can benefit from a little boost!
The importance of vitamin D for runners' bones, teeth, and muscles as they age cannot be overstated. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, so it tends to decrease in levels during winter, increasing a runner's risk of injury.
Since getting enough Vitamin D helps improve muscle strength and accelerates recovery, supplementing with Vitamin D is always recommended for athletes, even if you get plenty of sunlight.
Vitamin C is a very effective and super accessible antioxidant that can aid the body in restoring and repairing during times of stress. Take vitamin C when training hard and/or when you feel a cold coming on.
Pro tip: Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means it’s almost impossible to overdose. Take your Vitamin C from whole foods first, but as a last resort, those chewable tangy supplements always do the trick.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory compounds in fish and plants, such as flaxseed, walnuts, and hemp. These beneficial fats can have a positive impact on heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and the risk of stroke. Master runners should consume 500 mg of EPA and/or DHA daily.
Strength Training for Masters Runners
Strength training for a master's runner is particularly important because we lose muscle mass as we age. Strength training will allow you to stave off age-related muscle loss. Strength training regularly will also keep you from getting hurt and help you do your best in races and workouts.
Strength training does not mean just free weights and machines.
In your strength training program, you can use resistance bands, kettlebells, or just your own body weight. A good strength training program designed for masters athletes can help you to prevent running-related injuries, maintain a strong core, and improve your posture.
Sleep for Masters Runners
Sleep is the easiest and most underrated way for a Master runner to improve their performance. Running isn't as good when you don't get enough sleep because you have a distorted view of how hard you work when you're too tired.
Your quality and quantity of sleep also impact your appetite and mood. Research shows that people who are sleep deprived eat up to 500 calories more per day. So no guilt about catching those Z's and even grabbing a nap when necessary!
Pro tip: Try to sleep as much as possible before midnight to get as many high-quality REM cycles as possible.
Recovery for Masters Runners
The reality is that recovery takes much longer when you are a Masters athlete. You need to consider this fact when designing your running workouts. As a masters runner, you need to increase your rest between intervals from your rest times in your 20s and 30s. Ultimately, this will aid you in continuing to hit your desired running times.
Easy movement, such as walking or stretching with a foam roller, is a great way to help the body regenerate and recover. If you have occasional muscle strains or tightness, see a physiotherapist or massage therapist for help.
Another way to use time as a recovery method is to build in more “easy” days between your harder workouts. Run easy, take a walk, or simply take the day off. Whether you like it or not, 80% of your runs should be easy.
The biggest key to enhancing your performance as a Masters Runner is to have FUN!
Running as a Masters athlete can be a healthy and fulfilling way to remain active in your later years. You don’t have to do it alone. Running is fun with friends – a great reason to join a Toronto Run Club.
Aim high, remain positive, and know that you can achieve your running and athletic goals at any age!