Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Older Exercisers

by Gilly Brewster
(San Diego, California, USA)

We don’t like to think so, but as we age our body changes significantly. We may still feel mentally the same as we did in our 20’s but our bodies experience significant changes. Our hormone levels change, our immune systems change, our muscles change, even our brains change.

Our nutritional needs change as well. Often, our appetites decrease as we age as well. Even our taste buds change, causing us to no longer enjoy foods we once loved. This makes maintaining a healthy diet a problem for many seniors.

Many older people begin to eat only a few different, often highly processed, foods all the time, leaving them short on vitamins and minerals needed for optimum health. This problem is magnified greatly when an older person begins an exercise program and the body needs extra nutrients in order to recover from exercise and build muscle.

Older people who haven’t been exercising usually have slower metabolisms because they have less muscle mass. In addition, many common prescription drugs affect the appetite and nutrient absorption and even slow the metabolism.

In fact, nutritional deficiencies cause, directly or indirectly, many of the health problems older people experience. Here are a few tips to help make sure you meet your nutritional needs as you start an exercise program:

1- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some recent research has indicated that many of the health problems supposedly caused by eating the unhealthy foods you’ve loved all your life are really the result of not eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

2 – Try to avoid highly processed and refined foods. These foods are generally empty calories. All the vitamins and enzymes that meet your nutritional needs and protect you from health problems have been stripped out.

3 – Eat more dietary fiber. Although research has substantially discounted the idea that eating fiber prevents cancer directly, there are many other benefits to keeping your digestive tract working smoothly.

4 – Cut out sugar. Not only do foods high in sugar contain a lot of empty calories, sugar causes damage to your body in countless other ways including increasing your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and more.

This is not said to encourage the use of artificial sugar substitutes, but sugar itself would never be approved to be put on the market today if it had to meet the requirements of many of the sugar substitutes people are afraid of.

5 – Limit your use of table salt. As we age, our taste buds become less responsive. Many foods tend to lose their taste. Older people often try to counteract this with the salt shaker. Too much sodium can aggravate hypertension and cause other health problems. Experiment with other spices instead.

6 – Drink plenty of water. Many older people stop drinking as much water as they once did. This can wreck an exercise program. Water is needed to maintain blood volume and organ function, and to regulate body temperature.

7- Take a vitamin/mineral supplement. Many experts will tell you to get all your nutrients from a varied diet. That is definitely the best course, but almost everyone fails to eat with enough variety to get all the vitamins they need for optimal exercise recovery.

This does not mean to spend $10 per day on bags of vitamins at the health food store. A standard one pill a day vitamin/mineral supplementshould do the trick. However, many women may need extra calcium added to that.

Maintaining a healthy diet is both a necessity and one of the greatest challenges for older exercisers. The above tips should help make sure your exercise program isn’t sidelined by malnutrition.