By Kate Fisher
Kate Fischer, MS, RD, LD is the managing partner of Edge Performance Fitness, LLC, Portland, OR. She offers group fitness classes, and personal nutrition counseling.
*The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose or treat ANY medical condition. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise or treatment.
Getting Better With Age?
Is it possible to get better with age, even over 50 years of age? In my case, I thought I had reached my physical peak for running several years ago. Placing in the top ten in my age group in most races, working out regularly, and cross training was all pretty good for this “non-runner.”
Until last fall, I was the CFO of a large, nationally ranked consulting engineering firm based in Portland, OR. I was a corporate executive who worked out regularly, alternating running and lifting weights. I averaged better than three workouts a week for all of 2009, was among the elite of my colleagues, and really felt like I was at my peak. In 2009, I placed eighth out of 68 runners in my age group (M55 to 59) in the Shamrock 8k, running 38:47 downtown Portland, a pace of about 7:42/mile. Not a bad day’s work for an old guy.
In 2010, after adding another year to my chronological age and getting out of the corporate world, I managed to improve considerably over what I thought was a pretty good race the prior year. In the 2010 Shamrock 8k, not only did I place second in my age group (same age group), but also improved my time by three minutes, finishing the race in 35:34 (7:07/mile).
Recently I was asked by my partner/dietitian/coach, Kate Fischer of EDGE Fitness, to share my newfound training techniques to help others also improve with age.
What Is the Difference?
Leaving the corporate world and “semi”-retiring surely has something to do with it. But specifically, I haven’t really trained harder. My routine is less about running more, and more about core-training. I also have “easy” days now, but more about that later. I likely do train a little more consistently, since I no longer travel, but seriously, can that be it?
Since I’m an accountant by training, I’m really in no position to advise people on what I’m doing to get better, but I think three key changes I’ve made in my lifestyle over the past six months have certainly contributed:
Stress, the “silent killer,” could have something to do with it, but in actuality, I am putting in longer hours and working just as hard as I ever did. Leaving the corporate world and starting a small business is not for the faint of heart, particularly given the economy of late. So just how much less stress there is in my new life? Hard to say, but I will admit I am fitter and happier in my new position at EDGE.
Lesson: Kate taught me that adequate rest and stress reduction make a big difference in your recovery from exercise and your adaptation to training. Stress has widespread effects on our body, like sleep loss, metabolic changes, inflammation, and blood glucose control issues. Lack of adequate sleep can disrupt our body’s cycle for repair and recovery, thereby influencing how well the body adapts to training.
No Pain, No Gain
Growing up in the shadow of the great Vince Lombardi, I was always “coached” and taught the mantra “no pain, no gain.” The harder you work, the tougher it is to give up, and so that is how I trained over the years. Every workout was as hard as it could be. I believed that unless I was exhausted, I really wasn’t training, and therefore not improving.
Every run was a race, every workout was to “max-out,” and form was of secondary importance. Even with nagging injuries, I would push through. “Mental toughness” is the term that came to mind, so I would finish the full workout, no matter the toll on the body. Unfortunately, this mentality often resulted in more serious injury, and even more time off from regular training.
Lesson: There’s a new sheriff in town. Kate and EDGE Fitness have taught me that not every workout has to be harder or more intense than the last one. We need to listen to our bodies and pull back, or even STOP, if something hurts. “Bill is learning to train with intention and purpose instead of pushing the limits every step of the way. He is learning to listen to his body both on a daily basis as well as within a workout.”
Recovery and Food
Take a day off or have a recovery day of training? This was heresy, given my experience growing up in sports. Only by training harder and more often than anyone else could I hope to improve and be competitive.
The idea of “muscle recovery” was completely foreign to me. After all, eight years of competitive wrestling back in the day proved that I could lose weight when I needed to, and I could lose it quickly. I really thought the science of nutrition was for people who needed help with their diets to lose weight.
Lesson: Listen to your coach. Sound nutrition, not just calorie counting, is serious business. Coach Kate says, “It’s what you eat and when, not just the calorie count” that matters. Including a post-workout snack (quality protein and carbohydrates) within 30 minutes of a hard workout can dramatically improve your body’s ability to recover and the speed at which it recovers. It’s also important that recovery be seen as the whole day, not just the immediate window after exercise. Include a variety of antioxidant-rich foods (fruits and vegetables like berries and greens), nutrient-dense carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables), plus healthy fats and quality proteins to boost your recovery. Do not forget regular hydration along the way.
Keys to Bill‘s Success (from Kate’s perspective)
• Includes a smoothie immediately after workouts (berries, ground flaxseed, greens, whey protein, and either milk or yogurt)
• Has increased fruits and vegetables to at least five to eight servings per day (fruit and vegetable salads, carrots as a snack, berries/greens/fruit in smoothie, grilled vegetables with dinner)
• Includes regular meals and snacks with no large gaps between meals. Has reduced portion size (especially of higher calorie foods), due to regularity of meals, and has decreased intake at night by increasing intake during the active part of the day.
• Increased hydration with water-based beverages throughout the day including in the morning (to balance out coffee)
• Trains with intention — including specific workouts but also easy recovery days between. Allows adequate recovery time between strength workouts.
• Includes core training three to four times per week and exercises designed to balance out common weak areas for runners (for example, glute activation, lower-leg stabilization, and hamstring strength).
• Incorporates preventative exercises (above), proper nutrition, use of foam rolling or The Stick, and stretching in combination with rest for optimal recovery and injury prevention.
Perhaps we can be like a bottle of wine after all and improve with age. By staying active and getting away from the office now and then, by training “smart” (and letting Vince Lombardi rest in peace), and by taking an occasional day off to let our bodies recover, even those of us who are chronologically over 50, can be as good as we ever were. Or in my case, even better.
Bill Amadon, is the General Manager of EDGE Fitness.