You don't have to be a professional athlete to benefit from sports supplements. Even weekend warriors can heighten their performance thanks to myriad sports products lining store shelves.
But it's not all about being able to clock a faster time or lift more weight; sports supplements also serve as an insurance policy against the additional stress and energy needs brought on by exercise. "It's like you have one car to drive around for the rest of your life," says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, and author of the Encyclopedia of Sports and Fitness Nutrition (Prima Publishing, 2002). "You wouldn't start taking care of it after it was 20 years old. You would do regular maintenance."
Just as a car's maintenance needs change as it gets older, so do those of an active aging body. "In general, nutrient requirements increase with exercise," Applegate says. "But at different ages there are other considerations that come into play as well." Here is a look at issues that specifically affect active individuals during their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, and the supplements that can help.
The Turbo 20s
"I am around 20-somethings all the time," Applegate says. "They eat a lot of sugar and processed foods." Not only can a poor diet impede a young athlete's abilities, but it can also create nutrient deficiencies that will further hinder performance. Recommending a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement is one sure way to guarantee your younger customers are getting what they need. "Young women should find a multi with between 18 and 25 mg of iron; young men should choose one with under 10 mg," she says.
In addition to not always making the wisest food choices, many young athletes simply do not eat enough quality protein to allow for the constant rebuilding their active muscles demand. For this reason, protein bars and shakes—made without chemicals and refined sugars—can provide a fast and convenient source of these precious building blocks. "I recommend products that are easily digested, aren't fancy and have at least 15 to 20 grams of protein," Applegate says.
Trekking Through The 30s
Just like their 20-something counterparts, athletes in their 30s have to be aware of how diet affects both performance and health. "There is a good chance that a woman in her 30s who exercises is going to be a vegetarian or at least restrict her intake of certain [animal products]," Applegate says. To make sure they're getting the nutrients they need, steer your 30-something customers who watch their meat intake to a multivitamin rich in zinc and B12.
Also, remind these customers to start thinking about calcium. "The body's ability to gain calcium in the bones maxes out at about age 30. At that point you have to decide how fast you want to spend those stores," Applegate says. As a general rule, she recommends 1,200 mg daily of calcium carbonate to prevent 30-somethings' bone density loss.
Bones are not the only consideration when determining whether someone will spend her later years in the game or on the sidelines. In fact, when it comes to athletic longevity, caring for the joints early on may be a smart thing to do. "Glucosamine is not going to prevent an injury," Applegate says. "But it can certainly help speed recovery from injury or overuse." And since glucosamine, and its complement chondroitin, work by repairing the chondrocytes, or cells that make up cartilage, ligaments and tendons, preventive supplementation with 1,500 mg of each per day can also help younger joints stay supple for years to come.
The Fabulous 40s
Exercise itself produces free radicals, and unfortunately a 40-year-old body can no longer fight those unstable molecules like it did when it was 20. To prevent free radical damage to muscle tissue and from causing inflammation and soreness, suggest your active customers boost their own antioxidant supplies by eating more fruits and vegetables and taking supplements. "You need a mix of antioxidants, not just vitamin C," Applegate says. Recommend shoppers reach for formulas that include a variety of nutrients such as the carotenes, vitamin E, pycnogenol, lutein and zeazanthin.
By age 40, not only does biochemistry change, but the body may begin to react differently to food and drinks. Take caffeine for example: Before age 40, a green tea supplement or cup or two of coffee before exercise may have provided alertness and a little extra boost of energy. Now, however, the same amount may cause jitters or heart rate fluctuations. As your customers age, they'll need to experiment with caffeine-containing products and carefully monitor their body's reactions to them.
Facing 50 And Beyond
Creatine may already be one of the most popular sports supplements to ever hit the market, but its popularity with those older than 50 is just beginning. "We know that creatine improves strength, sprint time and recovery time in high-intensity exercise; now studies are showing it can also help older individuals who are just starting to retrain their muscles, or are battling chronic injuries or fatigue," Applegate says. Suggest your active 50-something customers talk to their health care practitioners about using creatine to boost performance.
Two common myths are that 50-somethings can't build muscle or perform at peak levels. The muscle loss generally accompanying age is primarily from disuse and a lack of protein, not from a physiological limitation. "As we age, protein needs go up, but ironically, most older individuals are less inclined to eat meat," Applegate says. To compensate, recommend a high-quality soy or whey protein powder that can be easily mixed into your customer's bowl of oatmeal in the morning or a smoothie in the afternoon.
Don't let a customer's age blindly dictate the sports supplements you recommend and those you omit. There are some particulars to consider in each decade of life, but any body can be supported by nutrition and supplements to boost athletic performance and reduce recovery time.
Linda Knittel is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer who specializes in nutition, fitness and women's health.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 5/p. 32, 36
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 5/p. 36