How Does Age Impact Recovery, Training, and Performance?
For any athlete, recovery forms an integral part of the training process. The adaptation to training happens in the recovery phase. When you run, it results in tiny amounts of tissue damage with every step that you take. Recovery is when the body repairs itself using the nutrients and rebuilds your muscles. Recovery essentially encompasses four fronts.
- Nutritional: To help you restore your fuel and fluid stores
- Physiological: To increase the blood supply to your muscles
- Neurological: To help your muscles relax
- Psychological: To provide psychological recovery and focus
Most recreational endurance runners either discover the sport at a later stage in their lives or move from professionally competing after their prime. Generally, it starts with the need to become fit, reduce weight, and stay healthy. However, with a progressing fitness journey, goals may shift to being more performance-oriented. You may train to improve your fitness and performance by increasing your running volume and intensity or adding more variety to your workouts.
Effect of aging on the recovery process
As you grow older, there are specific inevitable physiological changes that take place. However, what you can do is regulate and slow down these changes with effective training and recovery routines.
Research suggests that the age-related decrease in VO2max of master athletes, who continue to perform regular and vigorous endurance training, is around half the rate of VO2max decline seen in sedentary subjects in the same age group. This graph illustrates the age-related decline of VO2max in trained endurance athletes compared to sedentary control subjects.
However, there are athletes who are still able to perform well and run fast even as they age. How does that happen? It is suggested that after you cross your late twenties, the best way to maintain a steady fitness with a marginal decline in performance is to be consistent in your training frequency and volume.
Additionally, it is important to maintain a clean diet and get adequate rest. While recovery is essential regardless of age, being regular and incorporating some changes in your training routine can help you recover well and perform to the best of your ability at an older age.
Crucial aspects related to recovery
Here are some key points to consider during recovery.
The general philosophy when you age is to reduce your intensity and focus on long, slow runs. It is counter-productive if you want to slow down your vo2max rate of decline. Even though such runs help build your aerobic base, adding quality workouts like tempo and interval runs in your weekly routine can help push the VO2max boundaries and slow down the age-related VO2max decline.
Moreover, your training plan must include one to two sessions of high-intensity workouts a week. Also, focus on improving your flexibility and have adequate recovery in between these workouts.
Here is a tabular representation of what your ideal weekly training schedule should look like:
2. Injury prevention
As a runner, you need to be cautious about running-related injuries, irrespective of your age. As you age, the elasticity of your tendons and ligaments becomes less. You lose muscle mass and bone density.
Your recovery times also increase when you get older. During your youth, any mistakes related to your lifestyle and training may not have caused significant consequences and it may have been easy to bounce back to your original level of fitness. However, with age, there is less leeway to make these mistakes. So, reducing the training period only adds to the problem and makes it more challenging to get back the lost fitness.
Therefore, it is essential to follow a disciplined lifestyle and proper training methodology to minimize injuries. Here are a few useful ideas:
1. Begin with an appropriate warm-up routine and spend more time activating your muscle groups before starting your training.
2. Lift weights to build bone density. Doing this can also stimulate testosterone, which helps in maintaining muscle mass. Plan this activity in such a way that it should load your legs and not impact your run-specific training. So, incorporate strength training twice or thrice a week if you are over 50.
3. Follow a sports-specific strength training routine if you do not like going to the gym. For instance, you may add hill training as a part of your workout regime. Strength training also needs to be progressive and similar to your run training plan. It is important to understand that strength training is not the primary discipline of your sport, but it supplements your running.
4. Ensure that your strength training plan includes various stages, such as a base (foundation) phase, a build phase, and a peak phase. Since strength training is supplementary, you may do it post a run with adequate time to recover in between workouts. However, avoid using your recovery/ rest day to do your strength training session.
Based on your fitness levels, recovery means taking total rest or active recovery. Active recovery workout involves doing light physical activity/ exercises and slow jogs. It helps in blood circulation and speeds the recovery process. Going for a sports massage also helps in recovery. However, take it during your easy week of training.
Sleep is a crucial but often overlooked factor in recovery. Exercises like high-intensity intervals can stimulate the release of hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and human growth hormone, which help in tissue repair and supercompensation.
However, the actual changes happen while you are asleep. When you were a youngster, you could easily get eight to 10 hours of sleep. However, today, you may have many things on your plate. So, you end up including more activities into your schedule and compromise on your sleep duration by sleeping only for five to six hours. Sleep is an integral part of recovery. So, no matter what your age is, aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep.
Also read: How Does Sleep Affect Running Performance
Nutrition is another significant component for effective recovery. Your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition and nutrient-timing play an essential role in recovery. Adequate carbohydrates help replenish the glycogen stores and proper protein intake can facilitate muscle repair to get you ready for your next workout. Hydration throughout the day is another necessary part of recovery. So, it is advisable to include your protein intake as you get older.
Also read: How Does Nutrition Help in Exercise Recovery?
So, does aging impact performance and recovery? Yes, it does! However, incorporating these tips will help minimize the impact it has on your training and performance.
1. Rogers MA, Hagberg JM, Martin WH 3rd, et al. Decline in VO2max with aging in master athletes and sedentary men. J Appl Physiol (1985) 1990; 68: 2195-9.
2. Strasser B, Burtscher M. Survival of the fittest: VO2max, a key predictor of longevity? Front Biosci (Landmark Ed) 2018; 23: 1505-16.