Counteracting anabolic resistance for the aging athlete

Some level of anabolic resistance generally occurs with aging, typically around the age of 40. Meaning, it might take more of a given nutrient or stimulus to yield the anabolic response (e.g. building muscle tissue) as it did when you were younger. For example, one study demonstrated reduced time trial performance and lower muscle protein synthesis rates in masters triathletes during the 3-day period following a 30 min downhill run, compared to younger triathletes. In this study, all athletes ingested 20 g whey protein immediately after the run and consumed a diet containing 1.6 g protein/kg-day (0.3 g protein/kg-meal). The study concluded that older athletes may need higher protein intake than this to support recovery, training adaptation, and muscle protein synthesis. However, a more recent review on the topic suggests the chronic physical training of long-time athletes may somewhat counteract the decline in muscle mass (sarcopenia) and fitness that would otherwise be seen with aging. The degree to which muscle loss occurs is probably dependent on actual age, overall muscle mass, type, size and training history or “training age”. Note that menopausal women also experience a decrease in estrogen which is anabolic, creating another challenge for female masters athletes to overcome.

How much protein do you need? Moore (2021) suggests Master’s endurance athletes need a similar amount to younger endurance athletes (1.8 g/kg-day taken as ~ 0.5 g/kg-meal) due to the protective effect of chronic training. Doering et al. (2016) suggests 1.6-2.0g/kg-day. Thus, It would make sense that during intense training blocks/periods or recovering from muscle “damaging” events, you’d want to aim for the upper end of this range.

Whatever your total daily intake of protein is, it seems to be most effective to split-up the total grams evenly across your meals and post-exercise recovery snack. For example, this amount may equate ~35 to 40 grams of protein per meal, which would likely be sufficient to stimulate muscle protein and tissue synthesis and/or offset the loss of lean tissue. Finally, the majority of research has been conducted in males, so whether aging female athletes need a higher amount of protein to offset the anabolic resistance associated with aging has yet to be determined

PMID: 27433963, 34515969

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