Food and the older athlete – a relationship, not just fuel

I can think of no topic more complicated (or interesting) than diet and nutrition. The food in our lives has much, including emotions, attached to it. We want it to satisfy us, feed our bodies (and inner cravings), to give us pleasure and to provide good energy to accomplish all the activities in our day-to-day lives. That’s a tall order!

Our Outrigger team is composed of six women and we are each unique – in our body structure, our athletic backgrounds, our points of view, and our diet. We have one who follows a pescatarian diet,  one who is gluten and dairy-free and others who maintain a varied diet. Myself, I am a flexitarian. Add the fact that we are all over 60 and have less than six months remaining before the World Outrigger races, now seems the time to review our  eating habits so that we will be in optimum condition.

Our coach, Michael, (formerly known as Coach;)) boils it down to a simple adage…”eat a variety of food and plenty of it”. While we are in-training is not the time to cut calories, especially in the winter when we also want to keep up our immunity levels. One of the benefits of being an older athlete is that by now we are very familiar with our bodies and what agrees with us (or doesn’t) in terms of food. We all have raised and fed children and/or puppies, so we know the importance of nutrition and the balance of macronutrients: fats, protein and carbohydrates. The main thing right now for us is – when and how much we consume in conjunction with our training and racing.

Every book or online article I’ve read says that a protein increase is necessary as a person ages, and for women in particular. Eating more protein will help reduce muscle loss says Anita Bean, registered nutritionist. She recommends 30 grams of protein per meal for an active older adult and especially in a post-workout meal for recovery. We all have our preferred sources and everyone agrees that the freshest, least processed, and preferably local organic sources are the best. (We are so fortunate here in Powell River to have access to wonderfully fresh and clean food and water).

My favourite book so far says, “Be picky about protein” (p. 160).  Stacy T. Sims, PhD, in Roar: How to match your food and fitness to your female physiology, is thorough in explaining the role of key amino acids and muscle-building, fast- and slow-releasing proteins and charts of food content. Also included in this book are “Daily diet cheat sheets, “ if you really want to delve into the training and recovery balance of protein, carbs and fat. And it is a balancing act.

For example, “a light pre-race meal should be low fibre, carb-based, and low fat, and it should have a moderate amount of protein.” (p. 177) The quick-reference charts in this book for event and training nutrition (before and recovery)…and the recipes for power snacks are great.  Carbohydrates (so many good carbs, not just grain-based) are essential as fuel and also for post-exercise. There has to be adequate glycogen (stored carbs in the muscle and liver) in your system…”Glycogen availability is the single biggest limiting factor for going strong and maintaining your effort and intensity for any type of prolonged exercise.” (P. 158) After reading this I am trying to be more aware of my food intake and of the content of the essentials (macronutrients) in the servings I am eating.

So, without going into too much detail, protein should comprise 30-35% of my daily calories (many good sources including plant-based); carbs are essential for fuelling and re-fuelling; there is definitely room for fat (especially omega-3s), about 30% and mostly from avocados, nuts, seeds and dairy. Again, it’s all about balance and being aware…of our food intake, our level of training, making sure we protect our rest days, and paying attention to our moods. Sims points out that if your mood doesn’t rebound with rest and you’re feeling cranky and irritable, then dial it back, take a day or two off and eat well. Another book (Fuel your ride – Molly Hurford/Nanci Guest 2016) says “overtraining increases your risk of injury, can cause fatigue and make you sick.”

One last item that struck a chord…from Kristin E. Keim, sports psychologist…”I don’t think I’ve ever started working with a female athlete who identifies as an athlete.” I think it is time that we women (whatever age) look at ourselves in this light. We are training, we are working out, we are focused toward our goal In July. We are athletes, whether we were before this point or not, we are now!

p.s. Our next race is a sprint at the Gorge in Victoria on March 4. Check it out on the CORA website…!

As a bonus…here are a couple of recipes. The protein bar recipe comes from Helen, our pescatarian paddler. The sports drink recipe is from “Fuel your ride”.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bars


• 2 cups gluten-free brown rice cereal
• ½ cup combination of chopped almonds, mixed nuts, hemp seeds, cacao nibs etc.
(raw or roasted)
• ¾ cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy) (or any nut/seed butter)
• ½ cup brown rice or maple syrup (agave)
• 1 serving Chocolate Vega Protein (serving size on tub) (or any flavour)
• ½ tsp sea salt and more for sprinkling
• ½ cup vegan chocolate chips { + 1 tbsp cocoa powder if you want a heavier chocolate taste}
• Topping:
• 2 tsp coconut oil { + 1 tbsp if you’ve added cocoa powder}
• 1 to 2 tbsp water to help stick together if needed ( haven’t had to use water yet)


1. Combine brown rice cereal and chopped nuts/seeds in a large bowl.
2. In a small pot, combine peanut butter and brown agave and warm over low heat until runny and well-mixed. Turn off heat and mix in Vega Clean Protein and salt.
3. Coat a spatula with non-stick spray and pour peanut mixture into rice cereal mixture and stir until all ingredients are combined. Feel free to use your hands!
4. Once the mixtures have become well-incorporated, set it aside and let sit.
5. Press entire mixture into 8”X 8” pan lined with parchment paper.

6. In a separate pan, melt vegan chocolate chips with two teaspoons of coconut oil. (or microwave 40 seconds at a time until melted). Spread evenly over top of mixture.
7. Sprinkle a few salt crystals on top if desired.

8. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until chocolate hardens.
9. Cut into bars – desired sizes.
10. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze.


• If you use more protein powder the bars will be sweeter as the powder is sweetened with stevia.
• Play with different combos of nuts and seeds. You will be able to add more than ½ cup depending on consistency of mixture.
• You can shape into small balls and roll in cocoa powder, coconut, etc.

Make your own Sports Drink

Organic cranberry or orange juice, filtered water, and a pinch of sea salt. That’s it! Mix a 2:1 ratio of water to juice and for a lighter option…3:1 or 4:1 ratio of water to juice. Add a pinch of sea salt. Water is a good thirst quencher and not a great rehydrator. A little salt and a little sugar help the body to absorb the liquid.


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Self-perceiving…in sports and in life

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Turning up the heat…

Some days I feel like the proverbial frog in hot water. I am, of course, referring to myself and our team’s Outrigger training regime. I recognize that this is part of a plan, but it seems that as soon as we start to feel somewhat comfortable with where we are then !CLICK!…up it goes a degree (or two). Honestly, I am not complaining (much). The human body and psyche are a fascinating duo working in tandem to try keep us safe and alive. Apparently, they must be slowly seduced into believing that pushing the body hard (and harder) is OK, little by little.

We have now added weight-training sessions at the gym, twice a week. Our coach has worked, in the past, with rowing teams, young teams. He has seen results from his coaching. As he so tactfully put it, he hasn’t worked with such an experienced group before but he knows we are up to the challenge. Not having been a gym-going person in the past, I am approaching this with “beginner’s mind”, building one step at a time. It really does help to be there with other team members to encourage just one more leg press. We are fortunate in our small city to have more than one facility to choose from, but right now we are working out at the Powell River recreation centre where there is also an inviting pool, hot tub and sauna for post-training.

The method is to explore (and stretch) your  capabilities by finding the maximum weight (working to failure i.e. not being able to go beyond a certain weight), scaling back to 80% of the heaviest weight and then, as the weeks go by, push and pull heavier with lots of recovery in between. After a warm-up, we have been focusing on using three machines – the leg press, the chest press, and the horizontal pull. As expected, there are some of us with stronger legs and others have good upper body strength. I am liking the challenge of pushing my own limits, not to compete, but just to explore.

Still, my motivation is linked to the vitality of the team and the goal of our “Big Race” (Tahiti) which is now just over six months away! Phrases from the book “Peak Performance” stay with me…”Think about why you are doing what you are doing, especially when you are feeling fatigued”. “Motivation is contagious”.  And “Harness the power of purpose”. As we enter the countdown week to Christmas, where there are many preoccupations and some relaxing days to look forward to, I am feeling pretty good about how far I and we as a team have come already. The new year will bring with it a new push…and after holiday feasting I have a feeling that my attention next will be that of diet and nutrition and the older athlete.

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Finding that grit (aka sisu)

I’m finding that being part of a team has me thinking collectively…and using the word “we” a lot. So let me clarify that what I may write applies to me and my thoughts and not necessarily the team as a whole.

Lately when I start to feel tired I’ve been consciously trying to work with some of the ideas from the book I previously mentioned “Peak performance” (Stulberg and Magness 2017).  I have a pen that my daughter gave me that writes on glass and cleans off easily. It is meant for tagging wine glasses at a party but (between parties;) I’ve been using it to write messages to myself on my bathroom mirror. Right now there are four words in the corner…

Vitality             Strength               Camaraderie                Achievement

These are words that reflect on my purpose statement. They help me to get going on the early mornings of our practices. I have to admit that it is tough some days and I feel like the goat in my photo, perched on the roof…wondering “How did I get up here and can I keep going?” There is a word that I should add to my mirror-list. It comes from the Finnish (part of my heritage) and it is “sisu”…not a common word, but a powerful one. It is not exactly translatable but is in the same category as grit, guts, and determination. I think that each person on our team embodies this characteristic or inner drive and it feels contagious…in a good way. (It is flu season).

*Stress + Rest = Growth

This is a strong adage I have internalized from my reading. If I push myself hard during a practice and know that I am going to have time (and space) to have a good rest (and maybe a massage) afterwards, then making that effort becomes more focused…and especially realizing that the resting part is just as beneficial as the effort. Our outrigger training plan so far has been a combination of distance, stroke rate, and paddling power which varies from practice to practice. After our warm-up we paddle continuously with working rest breaks (paddling at a lower intensity but not stopping completely), usually 12-14 kilometre stretches…building stamina. Some days the rate is high, some days low…and we are getting much better at gauging our percentage of power, going from 60% effort to 80% to 95%.

*Developing mindful muscle

Take a walk, step away, breathe, let it all settle – this is noted as a vital part of rest and something to be cultivated. Being fortunate enough to live within beautiful surroundings of forest, mountains, ocean and lakes I don’t have far to go to be in silence and nature. This revives me. Another suggestion is to meditate. The book suggests that using this technique to “grow” your  mindful muscle and the ability to calm the mind can help in every part of life. I am working on this!

*Social Recovery (my favourite sub-chapter)

One of our team mates will be away for a month and our coach returns this week. We’ve set aside some time to meet for coffee. I know we will talk about logistics but when we are all together it inevitably turns social…shared stories, puns and twists of that odd British humour (which keeps us laughing). I can think of no better way of relaxing and team-building and this chapter confirms the science of it! It has to do with hormones, cortisol, oxytocin, and vasopressin…and it only works in a relaxed environment. Sounds like a perfect recipe to me.

* headings taken from the book “Peak performance”

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Living on purpose

November on the coast can be dark, wet and windy…and full of ups and downs. For our Tahiti team it has whipped by faster than the spray blowing off the tops of the waves. The month began with a very positive clinic for our club, Powell River Outrigger Canoe Society, with paddler extraordinaire, Kamini Jain from Vancouver. We all benefited from the coaching time on the water and the video critiques afterwards, leaving us with much to work on to improve our technique. This was definitely an “up”.

Our “British bulldog” of a coach, Michael Matthews then had to leave for a month…(this was a “down”) but not without leaving us a detailed training plan! However, we have felt his absence, missed his unique sense of humour, the encouragement, and even the admonitions. When we were first forming as a team, he sent us an excerpt from a book – Peak performance (Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness – 2017) – the last chapter, entitled “Develop your purpose”. Each team member used the suggestions to identify our core values and to come up with a purpose statement. 

Why, you might ask (like I did)? One answer is to help us get out there and train on the cold, rainy days of winter. It gives a reason and a deeper goal towards practice and improvement. It spurs us on to share our motivation, to feel more vital. The book suggests 3 ways to ingrain and remember this purpose…

  • visual cues – write it down and post it in a strategic spot where it catches your attention…on a mirror, computer, dashboard, etc.
  • self-talk – use it almost as a mantra when the going gets tough, not to quit but to ground down and gain empowerment.
  • Nightly reflection – review your purpose statement each night and see what aligned and what didn’t, short and simple…write it down for added benefit.

I will review more of this book in my next post because I love the psychology/self-help/motivational drive of the writing and the examples. (I may even reveal my purpose… ) It works for me!

The weather has been a mixed bag, sometimes resulting in cancelled practices…and with  team members being away, the flow of training has been a little stilted. But, on a high note, some of us participated in a fun, fundraising race (Movember for men’s health) in Victoria called the WetDashe. It was relay-style with team changes on the dock. We teamed up with young students from Pearson College. With 6 per canoe (3 adults and 3 students) and a 50 year age span, it was an amazing morning of paddling and our race times were absolutely great! It was so energizing to have the youthful energy in the canoe…and I think they were impressed (I like to think so…) that people as old as us could paddle so well 😉 I hope we inspired them to continue their efforts.

With December just around the corner, I am feeling results from the training so far.  Aware of the bigger picture, I find that I need to break it into smaller pieces and focus on the next goal. The next race we have entered is the “Icebreaker” on January 13 in Port Moody. (…after that I’ll allow a few thoughts of warm Tahiti waters).

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So much food for thought…(and action)

I love the way that reading, taking in all the words and thoughts of others, leads first to an inner conversation linking to our own experiences, then to an outward conversation of sharing with others what we learned or were inspired by in the book or article.

I have just finished such a book (inspiring), recommended (enthusiastically) by a team-mate (Outrigger canoeing) who has been part of the sport for much longer than me, and I have been paddling for seven years now. That book is “The boys in the boat” by Daniel James Brown published in 2013 about a rowing team and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She lent copies to anyone who expressed an interest. I was one of the last on our team to read it but, as with a lot of things, the timing turned out to coincide with just the right time to “hear” it.

Our team is “the women in the boat” right now, six women training for a world competition in Tahiti in the summer of 2018. We have a (very good) coach, a schedule, a spare and a training plan. We’ve travelled to the time trials, sent in our fees, booked our accommodations and flights…we are committed! As I read the book (in-between training and working) the parts of the story of the “boys” that has stayed with me revolves around the psychology of team sport and the parallels that can be drawn with most sports but especially these on the water.

The section (part three of the book)  “The parts that really matter”, emphasized for me the power of the team…not so much the physicality, but the blending and bonding of personalities, especially in a sport where timing, strength and cooperation are key. In our case, as a senior masters women’s team (age range 63 to over 70), we must consider not only building our strength and endurance but also not to push to injury.  We watch out for each other, support each other and offer encouragement. Our seating positions are still being switched around by our coach to find the optimal spots. This quote (page 179) illustrates…

“Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh. That’s the steepest challenge…It is an exquisite thing when it all comes together in just the right way.”

We are working hard and leaning on, not only each other, but our spouses, partners, friends and family to be understanding while we throw ourselves into this challenge. I am finding that, as someone who tends to “go madly off in all directions”, the focus demanded by this commitment is doing me good!



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