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.



About b allan

Brenda lives in a beautiful part of the West Coast of Canada. It is still wildly inspiring out here. By observing, exploring and recording, we open up new possibilities for knowing ourselves...and open a window of observation for others, too.
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