Electrolytes: Vital for Hydration of Senior Triathletes

Electrolytes play a critical role in keeping senior endurance athletes hydrated. These elements and simple chemical compounds make sure the water we consume is available to support key bodily functions.

Hydration Is Vital To Triathlon Training and Racing

The Senior Triathletes post, What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition, includes the following statement:

Water is necessary for regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients throughout our bodies, lubricating joints, and other bodily processes. However, as we age, thirst becomes less reliable as an indicator of hydration level. With the less sensitive thirst response, we are more likely to become dehydrated and, therefore, need to pay more attention to staying hydrated.

Many of the senior triathletes whose experiences are described in Our Stories have provided firsthand evidence of the importance of hydration. Pat Hawks, for example, has seen the terrible consequences of becoming dehydrated in other triathletes. For this reason, she has become a stickler about staying hydrated, especially during hard exercise and races. To make sure she has adequate electrolytes, she often drinks coconut water because of its potassium content.

When Steve Stewart forgot to follow his hydration plan during IRONMAN Wisconsin 2021, he became dehydrated and eventually dropped out of the race. Laurent Labbe had a similar experience.

More recently, I learned that dehydration can be a trigger for the heart condition atrial fibrillation (Afib) and can lead to increased blood pressure.

Why Is Dehydration During Strenuous Exercise A Problem?

Each of our trillions of cells requires fluid to maintain their shape and to perform their function. Related to physical exercise accompanying triathlon and other multi-sport endurance training and racing, these functions include:

  • Cellular respiration involving breakdown of glucose to produce energy as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This process produces carbon dioxide (CO2) as a waste product. Dehydration can, therefore, lead to reduced energy.
  • Protein metabolism in which amino acids are broken down, making them available for various bodily functions. This process produces nitrogen-containing waste, such as ammonia. The cells also convert ammonia into less toxic compounds which are eliminated by the kidneys after being removed from the cell.
  • Lipid metabolism breaks down fats (lipids) to produce energy. This process can generate waste products, such as ketones.
  • DNA and RNA turnover and repair. These processes have a unique set of waste products, some of which are recycled or converted to other molecules.
  • Cells are also responsible for neutralizing and eliminating toxins or certain foreign substances. There may be waste products within the cell from efforts to deal with the toxins.

As you can see, we have a lot going on within our bodies and it’s happening 24/7. But these processes can only occur properly if we have fed and hydrated our bodies correctly.

Did You Know You Can Become Dehydrated Even While Drinking Water?

Yes, you may become dehydrated at a cellular level even if you are drinking water. Cellular dehydration occurs when there is an imbalance between the water entering and leaving the cells. This leads to a decrease in the overall water content within the cells.

Even for a seemingly healthy person, an imbalance or loss of electrolytes will contribute to cellular dehydration, despite adequate water intake.

How Do Electrolytes Contribute to Cellular Hydration?

According to information in What Is Hydration on a Cellular Level and Why Is It Important?, electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and bicarbonate play a vital role in maintaining the balance of fluids within and around cells.

“Taking in enough fluid is the first step to achieving cellular hydration. Your cell membranes are highly permeable to water (meaning they permit water to pass through them), and water follows osmotic gradients. Osmotic gradients are generated when the concentration of solutes, such as sodium, is higher on one side of the membrane than the other.

“In the context of your cells, this means if you don’t have enough water circulating through your body, water will be drawn from the inside of the cells due to increased osmotic pressure — causing those cells to shrink. When your body contains enough water, this lowers the concentration of solutes in your body fluids, which allows more water to move inside of the cells and restore their shape.”

Electrolytes, a subset of the broader category of solutes, are essential to hydration. These minerals carry an electric charge and help maintain various physiological functions in the body. If there is an imbalance in electrolytes, especially sodium, cellular dehydration occurs. For the endurance athlete, proper electrolyte balance is necessary for optimal muscle contractions, nerve function, and overall cellular function.

How To Stay Hydrated At A Cellular Level

Sweating is the body’s natural mechanism for cooling during exercise. Sweating not only releases water but also essential electrolytes. This is one reason why we can become functionally dehydrated during longer training sessions or races. Even mild dehydration leads to fatigue, reduced endurance, and impaired concentration as energy production wanes and waste products build up inside cells. The latter is believed to be one cause of muscle cramps.

Staying hydrated at a cellular level involves diligence but not necessarily great expense. Not only does being hydrated help us perform at our best, it aids in recovery between workouts. Replenishing fluids lost during strenuous activity helps the body repair damaged tissue, remove waste products, and restore a state of balance. By staying hydrated, we can maintain our energy levels and perform at our best.

Here are the actions we should take to ensure proper hydration at a cellular level.

Choose Electrolyte-Rich Foods

According to Put Down the Sugary Sports Drink—These 9 Foods Naturally Replenish Electrolytes, here are nine foods and drinks easy to find at the store AND natural sources of electrolytes.

  • Bananas
  • Greek yogurt
  • Spinach
  • Watermelon
  • Oats
  • Avocado
  • Lemon juice
  • Coconut water
  • Sea salt (see below for more about this)
Fruits and vegetables are sources of water and electrolytes
Most fruits and vegetables contain 80% to 95% water. Many also provide much needed electrolytes.

Drink Water Throughout The Day

Water is necessary for regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients throughout our bodies, lubricating joints, and other bodily processes. However, as we age, thirst becomes less reliable as an indicator of hydration level. With the less sensitive thirst response, we are more likely to become dehydrated and, therefore, need to pay more attention to staying hydrated.

To help you set a daily goal, consider this calculator for daily water intake. Remember that coffee and tea, in moderation, are legitimate sources of water. So, are many foods.

According to What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition:

“It is helpful to remember that water can come in many forms. These include the obvious ones, including coffee, tea, milk, and soup. Water can also be consumed in fruits and vegetables. Registered nutritionist and chef Ian Harris points out that ‘vegetables such as celery, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, tomato and zucchini contain over ninety percent water’. In addition, ‘melons such as cantaloupe and watermelon have some of the highest water content, at more than 90 percent.’ Many other commonly available fruits contain over 80 percent water.”

Since it takes time for our body to absorb and distribute water we ingest, sipping water throughout the day is more effective than downing a day’s volume in one or two sittings.

Add Electrolytes To Your Water

Individuals engaged in strenuous physical activity, especially those who sweat a lot, may need to replenish electrolytes during exercise to support optimal hydration.

There are many sports drinks and additives to water aimed at supplying the much needed electrolytes. If you sweat a lot during an extended period, such as during hard exercise, you will likely benefit from adding electrolytes.

While doing research for this post, I came across an idea for improving hydration, one which I have started to evaluate. This low-cost solution, called Himalayan Salt Sole, involves adding a teaspoon of water saturated with dissolved pink Himalayan Sea Salt. The link will take you to the recipe.

I am also monitoring my blood pressure as part of the evaluation, expecting to see a reduction with improved hydration.

Pay Attention To Your Body

The main symptoms of dehydration are excessive thirst, dark urine, dizziness, and fatigue. Be sure to seek medical attention if these symptons persist.


Staying hydrated in the correct way, with water and electrolytes, gives our bodies the right fuel and ensures important systems continue working smoothly.

Whether we’re playing sports, running around, or just going about our day, water will help us feel good and stay healthy. However, we must also maintain the proper balance of electrolytes to be sure the water is getting into our cells, is being maintained at the proper level, and waste products generated within our cells are being removed.

Please Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

During a Stryd “For the Love of Running” webinar, registered dietitian Sakiko Minagawa presented nutrition guidelines for endurance athletes. She identified the day-in, day-out nutrition needed for athletes, including masters triathletes, to perform at their highest levels.

What was almost comical, however, was the number of questions focused on race day nutrition.

I thought about this scene after the webinar. Most of us recognize the importance of daily nutrition. However, in truth, we spend more time investigating the latest dieting fad or fueling strategy while grabbing whatever is convenient for a meal.

“Eating well and being active” is a ‘one-two-punch’ for healthy living of older adults, according to the website Eat Right. In fact, what we eat before, during, and after training can be part of our competitive strategy as an athlete.

Nutrition is a key component to health and sports performance.

Sakiko Minagawa, MS, RDN, LD

For the masters endurance athlete, paying attention to nutrition is even more important than for the younger person. Changes to our bodies that occur with age make what we eat increasingly important.

How Our Bodies Changes With Age

As we age, we must change what we eat and drink, how we rest, and how we spend our leisure time and train for endurance sports like triathlon.

“People who did the equivalent of 30-40 minutes of jogging per day, five days a week showed biological markers of a person seven years younger.”

From a report cited in “Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

How are we to change the way we eat, sleep, and play? By considering the most important changes to our bodies that occur with age.

Loss in lean body mass and bone mass

At around age 50, our skeletal muscles lose cells and become smaller and stiffer according to Dr. Vonda Wright in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging. Without intervention, the reduced muscle mass and increased stiffness results in lower strength, reduced power, and more frequent muscle strains and joint pain.

Decrease in total calorie needs

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the energy (measured in calories) necessary for normal body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Lean body mass (muscle) has a higher RMR than fat. Therefore, any loss of lean body mass, including that related to age, will reduce the calories required to maintain a given weight.

Decrease in nutrient absorption

For a significant portion of the senior population, age means reduced production of stomach acid. This may seem like a good thing given the barrage of advertising for medications to treat heartburn and acid reflux. However, less stomach acid can affect absorption of nutrients from food sources.

Decreasing absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and magnesium, affects bone health, blood pressure, and other metabolic processes.

How Age-Related Changes Affect Nutrition Needs of Masters Endurance Athletes

The changes with age explain why proper nutrition is one of six keys to triathlon training for seniors and even more critical to get right than for younger athletes.

The physiological changes mean that we need fewer (net of exercise) calories, higher amounts of protein, and greater amounts of key nutrients.

Sakiko Minagawa challenges us to do this by eating smarter and more efficiently. We must minimize so-called empty calories while consuming more nutrient-dense foods in the proper proportion.

Following are guidelines for older adults from government and private sources.

Nutrition for the General Population of Older Adults

In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture update dietary guidelines every five years based on the current nutrition science.

The greater number of people living longer has led to specific guidelines for older adults. MyPlate for Older Adults published by Tufts University is based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans but targeted to those age 65 and over. Check out their short, informative video with these recommendations and the following guidelines from nutrition professionals.

United States Department of Agriculture publishes nutrition guidelines.

Greater amounts of protein

It is important to pay attention to protein intake, avoiding skimping. Muscles of older adults require greater amounts of amino acids to achieve the same muscle-building effect that occurs in younger athletes.

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (1.3 ounces per 100 pounds) of body weight per day for adults over 18, or about 65 grams (2.3 ounces) of protein for a 180-pound adult. Research suggests that adults over age 65 require greater amounts.

More anti-inflammatory foods

Fish oil (through fish, like salmon and sardines, and supplements) and certain plant (e.g. flaxseed) and nut-based oils (e.g. olive, avocado, and walnut) are recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties. According to sports nutritionist Dr. Nancy Clark, “healthy plant and fish oils provide a health-protective anti-inflammatory effect. Given that diseases of aging such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis are triggered by inflammation, consuming canola, olive, avocado, walnut, and fish oils that reduce inflammation are a wise choice.”

Vitamins and minerals

The reduced ability with age to absorb nutrients from food means that we need to eat foods higher in certain nutrients. Prioritize fruits and vegetables high in vitamin D (e.g. salmon, eggs, orange juice) and calcium (e.g. green leafy vegetables, broccoli), though balance is also important.


Water is necessary for regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients throughout our bodies, lubricating joints, and other bodily processes. However, as we age, thirst becomes less reliable as an indicator of hydration level. With the less sensitive thirst response, we are more likely to become dehydrated and, therefore, need to pay more attention to staying hydrated.

It is helpful to remember that water can come in many forms. These include the obvious ones, including coffee, tea, milk, and soup. Water can also be consumed in fruits and vegetables. Registered nutritionist and chef Ian Harris points out that “vegetables such as celery, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, tomato and zucchini contain over ninety percent water”. In addition, “melons such as cantaloupe and watermelon have some of the highest water content, at more than 90 percent.” Many other commonly available fruits contain over 80 percent water.

Watch your salt intake

According to registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak, those over age 50 are more likely to be “salt sensitive”. We need to pay even greater attention to salt intake. However, you don’t have to forego taste. Herbs and spices make effective salt alternatives.


Consuming a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods such as whole grain, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy should be our first choice for nutrient needs, according to Sakiko Minagawa. However, given the importance of avoiding bone mass loss, active seniors may benefit from supplements such as protein powder, vitamin D, calcium, and/or a multivitamin to meet the nutrient needs not provided by food. Prior to taking supplements, review any plans with a dietitian and/or physician to avoid any potential negative consequences from overdosing or interactions between supplements and medications.

Choose Organic for These Fruits and Vegetables

The fruits and vegetables in the table below quickly absorb herbicides and pesticides. Therefore, it is best to choose organically farmed forms of these whenever possible.

StrawberriesSpinachKale, collard & mustard greens
Bell & hot peppersCherriesPeaches

Source: Dr. Livingood.com

More Nutrition Guidance for Masters Endurance Athletes

Active seniors, including triathletes, need even greater amounts of amino acids to achieve the same muscle-building effect that occurs in younger athletes. Dr. Nancy Clark recommends that the masters athlete consume 1.4 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.6 to 0.7 gram per pound of body weight per day) spread throughout the day. This effectively means doubling the amount of protein recommended for the general population.

For a masters athlete who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg), this means 95 to 110 grams of protein per day. Distribute your protein intake throughout the day. Consuming 25 grams four times per day is a good goal.

In addition, the masters athlete should consume an additional 40 grams of protein after hard exercise for muscle repair and recovery as soon as possible after finishing the session. Think whey protein smoothie since whey protein is high in the amino acid leucine, which triggers muscle growth.

Some research also suggests potential benefits of protein consumption before sleep for overnight muscle protein synthesis. Sakiko Minagawa recommends foods such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk which are great sources of protein as a pre-bedtime snack. These help with recovery and adapting to exercise training.

Stay hydrated

The active senior triathlete, especially one who sweats a lot during endurance training, needs to pay special attention to staying hydrated. Follow the guidelines for drinking healthy water-based beverages and eating fruits and vegetables high in water content. Pay attention to the color of your urine and consume enough water in whatever form so it is consistently light-colored.

While we need to avoid excessive salt intake, the endurance athlete needs to make sure he/she does not become electrolyte deficient during training, especially in high temperatures.

Meal Guidelines for Active Seniors

MyPlate for Older Adults provides the following guidelines:

  • 50% of the plate should contain several servings of various colored fruits and vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen, or canned but look for low sodium and low added sugar varieties.
  • 25% of the plate (at least three ounces) should contain whole-grain pasta, breads, cereals, or rice. These are important sources of nutrients and fiber.
  • A serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, yogurt or cheese) fortified with vitamin D to provide protein and much needed nutrients.
  • Vary protein choices with more fish, beans and peas (see the chart below), and milk. Many of these protein sources also contain significant amounts of important nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium.
  • Consume plenty of fluid from sources such as water, coffee, tea, soups, and high water content fruits and vegetables.
  • Oils used for salads or food preparation should be liquid oils.
Beans and peas are a source of protein to support nutrition for masters endurance athletes
Grams of protein per cup of commonly available beans and legumes. Source: healthline

Endurance athletes in training should adjust these guidelines to accommodate their special needs for higher protein intake, more water consumption, and additional vitamin D and calcium. “Kill two birds with one stone” by eating more fish such as swordfish, salmon, tuna; milk; yogurt; eggs; and cheese since these are good sources of both protein and vitamin D.

A Healthy and Surprisingly Good Tasting Recipe High in Protein and Fiber

Besides hummus, I had not found recipes with chickpeas that both my wife and I enjoyed. That changed with the following recipe from Bon Appétit.

Quite Possibly the Best Chickpeas

  • 1 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, drained
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 – 3 x 1 inch strips lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Recipe Preparation

Combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, lemon zest, oil, and a couple big pinches of salt in a large pot. Add 2 quarts of water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally and replacing any water that evaporates, until chickpeas are tender, about 2 hours. Taste and season to taste. Let cool.

If you make this recipe, share your thoughts in the Comment below.

Involving an Expert

Older athletes should avoid extreme or fad diets. However, you may be impatient to lose weight or increase athletic performance. Eating whole, unprocessed foods following the balanced, healthy eating patterns described in the USDA guidelines is best.

Consult a dietician for additional nutrition recommendations for your specific health and sports performance goals.


Thank you to Sakiko Minagawa, MS, RDN, LD for contributing to this post.

Share Your Questions and Comments

As an endurance athlete, what is the most important lesson about nutrition you have learned?

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

This post. originally published on April 7, 2020, was updated on September 19, 2023.

Tis the Season for Fresh Tart Cherry Juice

A few weeks ago, bright white blossoms covered the Montmorency cherry trees in our backyard. My thought? First, I was reminded at how beautiful they are. Next, I began to imagine the fresh cherry juice, cherry flavored kombucha, and tart cherry salsa we would soon enjoy.

The taste of freshly picked and pitted fruit from these cherry trees is wonderful. However, the mouth puckering liquid from this fruit also heals and strengthens. You see, tart cherries are packed with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds.

Incorporating tart cherry juice as part of a healthy eating pattern can be a great way to add variety into an individual’s diet.

Sikako Minagawa, MS, RDN, Peak Performance Sports Nutrition, LLC

Related post: What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

What Does the Science Say?

On February 20, 2020, the Cherry Marketing Institute issued a press release titled “New Meta-Analysis: Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate Found to Help Improve Endurance Exercise Performance”.

For the report cited in this release, researchers analyzed results of ten separate studies on the role of tart cherry juice on performance in endurance exercise. Only those based on randomized controlled trials were included in the research.

For their work, researchers used meta-analysis to analyze the combined results of individual studies. For reference, meta-analysis is a common research method. Meta-analysis applies statistical analysis to dig deeper into combined results of multiple scientific studies that address the same question.

According to the press release, co-author Philip Chilibeck, PhD, professor in the College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan concluded:

“The results of this meta-analysis found that tart cherries did help improve performance, and we gained greater insight into the potential mechanism responsible for this benefit.

Other findings of the study were:

  • Timing: Tart cherry concentrate is effective when taken for 7 days to up to 1-1/2 hours before exercise.
  • Fitness level: The least trained athletes showed the lowest improvement from consuming tart cherry juice.
  • Dose: The daily consumption of anthocyanins (compounds with anti-oxidant properties) by study participants ranged from 66 to 2,760 mg. However, the study did not identify the relationship between the amount of tart cherry concentrate consumed and athletic performance.
  • Mechanism: Improvements in performance are most likely related to the low glycemic index, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and blood flow enhancing effects of tart cherry concentrate.

How Can Triathletes Most Benefit from Tart Cherry Juice?

According to registered dietician Beth Schutt, tart cherry juice has the greatest benefit for athletes who are well into their training plan. In an article for USA Triathlon, she wrote:

“It is readily agreed upon, though, that prior to racing and directly after racing, tart cherry is most useful.  For the athlete who is deep into racing season and in a cycle of race, recover, repeat, tart cherry should be on the menu consistently.”

As the study cited above shows, there is less benefit when beginning to train and during the base building phase. Conversely, tart cherry juice’s benefits for recovery and performance become more valuable as race day approaches.

Benefits Beyond Sports Performance

For older adults, there are additional reasons for consuming tart cherries. According to registered dietician Sakiko Minagawa:

“In addition to sports performance, research suggests other benefits for older adults. Tart cherry juice may help reduce cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and LDL cholesterol in this group.”

Looking for Tart Cherry Juice?

Not sure where to purchase tart cherry juice or its other forms (powder, juice concentrate)? One source is Swanson Vitamins. Please note that Senior Triathletes is an affiliate of this business. This means I will earn a small commission on any purchases from this company if you use this link.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What is your go-to food or drink for post exercise recovery?

Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

Triathlon training must change as we age to reflect the changes in our bodies. The consequences of improper training can be career-ending. Following an approach that recognizes six principles of triathlon training for seniors age 50 and over will ensure strong performance.

Meanwhile, many of the questions I receive indicate that most triathlon training programs do not consider the changes that occur with aging. This post is the beginning of an effort to address age-related needs for the senior triathlete.


Academic research has shown that decreased performance with age is not a given. Often, decreases have more to do with reduced energy, lower intensity in training, and less time spent training.

In one study, researchers measured VO2 max, an indicator of the size of one’s athletic engine, of elite athletes of various ages. The study showed a linear decline with age for athletes from age 18 to 103. However, they did not observe a ‘cliff ‘, or abrupt change, in performance.

On the flip-side, triathlon training following the six principles outlined here will help senior triathletes continue strong and with minimal injury.

How Should Triathlon Training Change for Seniors?

Consistent exercise can slow aging. However, being consistent can be easier said than done. For some, lower energy with age makes it difficult to find the motivation for regular exercise. For others, jam-packed schedules make consistent exercise a challenge.

Also, the physiological changes that occur with age are the ingredients for more injuries. Never in our lives has the adage “working smarter, not harder” been more appropriate.

Physiological Changes with Age

King David understood what researchers today confirm – the human body is awesome. David wrote in Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. “

Included in this wonderful design of the human body is the capability for self-repair of many types of tissue, including those of the muscles, tendons, and bones. Through repair, muscles become stronger during strength and endurance training. This same process promotes recovery from injuries.

However, in the typical aging process, our bodies become less efficient in making these repairs. Recovery from normal exercise and especially from injury takes longer. Tissues become stiffer. Taken together, these ultimately affect our athletic performance.

We need not give up, however. Recent research cited in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging has shown that our ‘old’ cells can be re-programmed through physical exercise to behave like younger cells.

According to a report published in Preventive Medicine, people who did the equivalent of 30-40 minutes of jogging per day, five days a week showed biological markers of a person seven years younger.

The Aging Musculoskeletal System

Beginning at around age 50, our skeletal muscles lose cells and become smaller and stiffer according to Dr. Vonda Wright in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging. Accompanying this decrease in muscle mass is a reduction in strength and the power they are able to generate.

More frequent muscle strains and joint pain also result from reduced muscle mass and strength and increased stiffness. For example, knee pain, sometimes incorrectly attributed to osteoarthritis, often highlights weak quadriceps. Shoulder pain in swimming is often a consequence of ignoring the smaller muscles responsible for joint stability. Finally, hip injuries are often rooted in stiffness and weakness of the core and gluteal muscles.

Tendons stiffen with age, in part, because of decreases in water content, hormonal changes, and thickening of elastin fibril tissue. On top of this, overuse which produces micro tears in the tissue leads to further stiffening of connective tissues .

Overuse injuries, those caused by continuing to exercise fatigued and/or tight muscles, are the most common among senior athletes. So here’s the dilemma: We need to keep moving to be strong and flexible, but moving more can lead to injury. Hint: strength training and stretching are two of the six pillars of triathlon training for seniors.

Nothing good happens in running, or in most sports, when you get tight. Tight muscles never outperform loose muscles simply because their range of motion is restricted, meaning they can’t move the full length for optimal power. 

Ryan Hall from Run the Mile You’re In 

Our Cardiovascular System and Aging

The lower mass and stiffening of tissue observed in older muscles and tendons is also seen in the cardiovascular system. According to Dr. Wright, “a 70-year old heart has 30% fewer cells than the heart of a 20 year-old.”

With the stiffening comes less efficient delivery of much-needed oxygen to cells. With less oxygen, performance, metabolism, and energy levels suffer.

The good news is that through endurance training, oxygen consumption increases. Dr. Wright reports that “Through endurance conditioning, one is capable of modifying maximum oxygen consumption, diastolic filling, relaxation, and arterial stiffness.”

Aging and Nutrition

How do the changes in our bodies affect our needs for fueling before, during, and after training?

As reported in “What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition“, the physiological changes that take place with age mean that we need “fewer (net of exercise) calories, higher amounts of protein, and greater amounts of key nutrients”. We also need to pay close attention to staying hydrated which can be accomplished through choices of food and drink.

Principles of Training for Senior Triathletes

  • More stretching
  • Proper strength training
  • Leveraging high-intensity interval training
  • Getting enough rest
  • Staying hydrated
  • Nutrition – eating enough of the right food

More Stretching

Proper warm-up and stretching before vigorous exercise with additional stretching during cool down prevents the gradual shortening of tendons and cartilage. From my experience, I can say the same for muscles.

stretching before and after workout prevents injuries - one of the principles of triathlon training for seniors
Pre- and post-workout stretching is a fundamental of triathlon training for seniors.
Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Stretching the entire body prevents imbalances. For example, in my early days of running, I was religious about stretching my hamstrings after running. However, I was not as diligent about stretching my quadriceps.

A chiropractor who diagnosed my knee pain identified an imbalance of flexibility in these two muscles. After a short time of consistent stretching of my quadriceps, the knee pain disappeared.

Related post: Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Proper Strength Training

Earlier, I highlighted the connection between injury and muscle strength. Weak muscles are more prone to injury and provide less support for joints during activity.

It is important to strengthen the right muscles. While many athletes focus on strengthening cosmetic muscles (biceps, triceps, calves), these may not be the best ones on which to focus.

There are also plenty of personal stories in favor of strength training. One example is from ultrarunner Judy Cole (age 73). Judy ran every day during her early 30s. However, early on, she reported having problems with her knees.  Strengthening her quads and hamstrings eliminated the pain allowing her to continue running.  

Related post: Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

Related post: ‘At the Core’ – Strength Training to Help Seniors Perform Better and Avoid Injury

Leveraging High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is an approach to training characterized by short periods, or intervals, of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of recovery.

HIIT first gained notoriety in 1996 through a report published by the Japanese speed-skating coach and professor Izumi Tabata. Tabata’s paper documented the value of HIIT for elite athletes. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology documented the benefits of HIIT over medium-intensity training for increasing VO2 max, an indicator of aerobic fitness. HIIT continues to be used for athletes of all levels, including cyclists and distance runners, for both endurance and strength training.

I have included HIIT here because it’s used for training in swimming, biking, and running. It also supports strength and fitness while simultaneously reducing the risk of overuse injury compared to long periods of lower intensity training. It also promotes variety and exercising of the entire body.

For more information about HIIT training and its benefits, look at Dr. Joseph Tieri’s book Staying Young with Interval Training. After an introduction to HIIT and its benefits, most of the book shows various HIIT exercises.

Related post: Why Senior Triathletes Should Use Interval Training

Getting Enough Rest

Rest and recovery apply to all ages. As suggested in an earlier post, we ought to make consistent, high-quality sleep a priority.

However, one liability of age can be the ‘ability’ to persevere through pain. If you only take one lesson from this post, it is that we must train smarter, not just harder, with age.

Tired muscles are more prone to injury. Abused cartilage and muscle will get their revenge. It is best to rest or change your training plan to avoid aggravating sore areas.

Staying Hydrated

As we age, our sensation for thirst becomes weaker. At the same time, lower water content of body tissue is one contributor to injury. The message? Stay hydrated.

Nutrition – Eating Enough of the Right Food

Consuming additional protein to ensure that we are producing muscle from strength training is the most significant takeaway. Eating anti-inflammatory foods and a full range of different colored fruits and vegetables is good advice for all ages. See the related post below for more detailed advice.

Related post: What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

What Is Your Experience?

Please share your questions and comments below.

We would love to hear what you have learned from your experiences? Your reading? From your coaches or training partners?

How have you adjusted your training with age?

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1

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