Nutrition for older runners

The UK has an ageing population, over 16% of people are over 60 and life expectancy is steadily increasing. As an older runner you make a up a tiny fraction of those people and it’s likely that you are at the top level of health in that sector.

As a runner you are already making great strides to offset the effects of ageing and reducing your risk of major diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. You are also maintaining more muscle-mass than the average Joe, this will help you to stay strong and mobile and keep your metabolism firing well. Having said all this, there are still many runners whose nutrition is less than optimum, and there are specific reasons to eat well as a runner, but also as we age.

Our visible bodies change as we get older but there are more subtle changes going on inside us. Many of these affect our experience of eating and the way we process food. Our tastebuds become less keen, the same happens with smell – and smell influences enjoyment of food. We also digest food and nutrients less well as our digestive enzymes decline and even saliva production reduces. Added to that, the physical contractions of the digestive tract can slow down. So you can see how important it is to focus on eating a healthy diet and keeping the system running as efficiently as possible – in fact running aids peristalsis, which is the movement of food through the gut, so there’s another plus!

There are a few key nutritional considerations, which if practised will improve immunity, robustness, energy, performance and recovery.

Calcium

  • For healthy bones and nervous system.
  • Yoghurt, milk (full fat, unhomogenised), cheese, green leafy veg, bony fish such as tinned sardines and salmon

Iron

  • Essential for transporting oxygen around the body. Oxygen fires your running.
  • Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dried fruit, dark green leafy veg, fortified breakfast cereals.

Magnesium

  • For good muscle and nerve function and prevention of cramp (cramp can plague older runners)
  • Bananas, breakfast cereals, meat, milk, potatoes, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, avocados, dried fruit, yoghurt.

Potassium

  • For good muscle and nerve function and prevention of cramp.
  • Avocados, bananas, yoghurt, dried apricots, beans, baked potatoes, fish.

Zinc

  • For good immunity.
  • Meat (esp lamb), poultry, cereals, leafy and root vegetables, shellfish, eggs, nuts.

Vitamin C

  • For good immunity, healthy collagen (keeping those ligaments healthy), muscle function, absorption of iron, healthy nerve signals (nerves fire muscles).
  • Kiwi fruit, citrus fruit, sweet potato, mango, papaya, peppers, sprouts, broccoli.

Vitamin D

  • For strong, healthy bones (in conjunction with calcium) Also thought to inhibit cell proliferation (cancer)
  • Sunshine! Milk, eggs, fortified foods, oily fish. Maybe some liquid vitamin D supplementation during the winter months.

B vitamins

  • Many many functions but key players in energy production.
  • Meat, cereals, dark green leafy veg, whole grains, nuts, seeds, yeast products, eggs, dairy products.

Whilst you might think you get an abundance of these nutrients many people lead busy lives, and many more have lost touch with natural ingredients and home cooking. Reliance on processed foods means that a lot of the nutrients have been lost. Getting back to basics and cooking simple meals from good fresh and natural ingredients is an investment in your long term health, your running and your longevity.

Lastly, we should talk about weight and body composition. Weight and fat percentage have a huge bearing on running performance. Typically older people have less muscle because muscle is lost at a fast rate as we age. Luckily runners maintain some of this through their sport, though functional resistance training is an important type of cross training to add to the overall programme. It sometimes becomes harder to lose fat and that is mainly because with age often comes more leisure time, which can be spent eating, and more money, which can also be spent on eating! Alongside loss of muscle we end up eating more calories but our engines, our muscles, are less efficient to burn those calories. So it often happens that an older runner puts on weight due to socialising, more money and lack of resistance training, as well as decreased running intensity.

Hopefully this helps you to realise the added importance of good nutrition for older runners.

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