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You Start To Lose 25% Of Your Strength At Age 25. Here’s What To Do About That.

Your body begins to decline sooner than you like, and by age 50 your dietary requirements are quite different than they were when you were younger. But you can beat back aging to some extent by following this advice.


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The legendary Fred Beckey, known for his numerous ascents and “Will belay for food” dirtbaggery, climbed into his 90s. He was known for scrounging food, wasn’t picky, and his lifestyle was a rare exception. The rest of us mere mortals should watch our diets if we expect to remain active and live to our fullest.

Aging isn’t all doom and gloom. Climbing is one of those beautiful and rare sports that offers something for everyone, including the aging athlete. Adhering to a few key nutrition strategies can help you keep climbing into your older years. In short: Pass the protein, please.

As you age, your body may experience:

  • Decreased muscle mass to the tune of about 25% loss between the ages of 25 and 50 years old
  • Decreased mobility and flexibility
  • Decreased maximum heart rate and VO2 max
  • Decreased human growth hormone and testosterone, both of which are muscle-building hormones
  • Decreased estrogen in females. Menopause is linked to increased risk of muscle injury and increased bone and muscle wasting.
  • Decline in fast twitch muscle fibers (needed to generate force and power)

That list may seem depressing, but you do have a say in how to respond to aging.

  • Decreased muscle mass can be mitigated to some degree by strength training—lifting weights
  • You can respond to decreased mobility and flexibility by introducing a regular stretching routine
  • Endurance training helps maintain a healthy heart and lung capacity

Justin Moynihan, former guide and current weekend warrior, says, “Since my early 40s I’ve definitely figured out that I can’t go hard every day without consequence. I still train hard, but have to match those days with recovery like sleep, stretching, massage, physical therapy, and lots of protein.”

Dialing in your nutrition can indeed fight the mass exodus of your lean muscle mass.

PROTEIN

  • Protein needs increase with age. Aim for at least 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Postmenopausal women likely have similar protein needs as men.
  • Climbers over 50 need about double the protein as younger climbers, about 40 grams per meal, evenly spreading protein intake throughout the day. This would look like a four-ounce salmon filet with one cup cooked quinoa, some vegetables, and an eight-ounce glass of milk for one meal.
  • High-quality protein with a good source of leucine (an amino acid that acts as a signaling molecule for muscle protein synthesis) include any animal protein. If you are vegan or vegetarian, take one of a wide variety of plant-based proteins for optimal amino acid profile.

CALCIUM & VITAMIN D

Both involved with bone health, these two important nutrients may need special attention as a climber ages. Calcium requirements increase with age.

  • Women over 50 need 1,200 mg daily in contrast to 1,000 mg for younger women.
  • Men over 70 need 1,200 mg daily. Younger men need 1,000 mg.

Vitamin D requirements also increase with age to 800 IUs per day for both men and women over 70. This is especially challenging, as vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” can be produced under your skin with sun exposure, but this capacity to produce it can decrease up to 50 percent with aging. Good thing crags are outside!

HYDRATION

Proper hydration is always key for any climber to maintain performance, a sharp mind, and safety. Both dehydration and low blood sugar can lead to simple mistakes, missed safety checks, and emergencies in the backcountry.

Older people may experience decreased thirst sensation, which means an older climber needs to be extra diligent to have a hydration plan and stay on schedule. Heat, cold, humidity, and high altitude—conditions climbers encounter frequently—also increase fluid needs.

Medications sometimes interfere with both thirst and hunger. The older a person is, the more likely they will need some medication. This also increases the risk for food-drug and supplement-drug interactions. Be aware of any side effects and how to manage them.

Channel your inner Fred Beckey with a few diet and training tweaks, and you’ll increase your odds of comfortably climbing into your later years.

Marisa Michael, MSc, RDN, CSSD is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and author of Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send. She serves on the USA Climbing medical committee and has a private practice in Portland, Oregon. Find her online at nutritionforclimbers.com or on Instagram @realnutritiondietitian for nutrition coaching, workshops, and writing services.