I write many columns about the effects of aging on our bodies and the different types of physical activities that will help slow — and in some cases reverse — the aging process. Physical activities are one very important component of aging well but only one component. I recently wrote two broader columns on different ways to deal with getting older:
For longevity, good health and for effective and enjoyable cycling, good nutrition is just as important as physical activities. Here’s one example: Researchers studied Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause mortality. The study looked at 71,706 participants (38,221 men and 33,485 women) aged 45-83 for 13 years and concluded, “In comparison with 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, a lower consumption was progressively associated with shorter survival and higher mortality rates. Those who never consumed fruit and vegetables lived 3 years shorter and had a 53% higher mortality rate than did those who consumed 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. … Those who never consumed fruit lived 19 months shorter than did those who ate one severing. Participants who consumed 3 servings lived 32 months longer than did those who never consumed vegetables.”
The material in this two-part column applies to all cyclists. The material comes from my research for a new eBook on Cycling in Your 70s, 80s and Beyond. The two-part column covers:
- Part 1: general nutrition guidelines and recommended quantities of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein and oils.
- Part 2: vitamins and minerals.
Paying attention to good nutrition starting at an early age is important for number of reasons:
- Most eating choices are habitual and developing good nutritional habits early will help you with the following benefits.
- A healthy diet will give you more energy both on the road and at home.
- A healthy diet is the foundation of good cycling nutrition both on and off the bike.
- A healthy diet can help you control your weight.
- A healthy diet will dramatically lower the risk of some diseases: osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
In general the average diet of older adults (age 65 and older) scores 66 out of 100 on the Healthy Eating Index, the US Department of Agriculture’s tool for assessing the fitness of different groups. A score of 100 means the individual’s food choices meet all of the key dietary recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. USDA Healthy Eating Index. The average diet of all Americans scores 58 out of 100.
As a cyclist you’re probably eating better than the average American, which I find true of my coaching clients. Each new client completes a three-day nutrition log, which I then review. In general they’re eating a healthy diet. But there’s still room for improvement for them and probably for you.
The pros know good nutrition is essential to success. They have chefs and nutritionists who travel with the teams. I wrote a column on Eat, Race, Win Lessons from the Tour de France.
I’ll give you both general guidelines and quantitative guidelines. The following general recommendations are based on the Nutrition for Older Adults published by the US National Library of Medicine.
General nutritional guidelines:
- Eat a variety of foods because different foods have different nutrients. It may be simpler to eat the same breakfast every day but it’s healthier to vary it.
- Choose foods that give you a lot of nutrients without a lot of calories:
- Fruits and vegetables. Different ones have different nutrients so choose ones with a variety of colors.
- Whole grains such as whole grain breads, whole grain pastas, whole oats, and brown rice. When these foods are refined (white bread and pasta, instant oatmeal, white rice) many of the nutrients are stripped away.
- Fat-free or low-fat milk, soy or rice milk with added vitamin D and calcium, which are important for healthy bones. Fat-free and low-fat yogurts and cheeses are also good; however, it may be hard to find lower fat cheese.
- Seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
- Beans, nuts, and seeds
- Refined foods such as packages of soups, canned goods, prepared meals and side dishes usually have a lot of fat and sodium; if you look carefully you may be able to find low fat or low salt refined foods.
- Minimize foods with empty calories, which are foods with lots of calories but few nutrients, such as chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol. Nutritional guidelines usually say to avoid these totally but in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with chips or a candy bar occasionally.
- Pick foods that are low in cholesterol and fat and try to avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are usually fats that come from animals. Trans fats are processed fats in stick margarine and vegetable shortening. You may find them in some store-bought baked goods and in fried foods at some fast-food restaurants. In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with the occasional lunch at McDonald’s or tasty steak.
- Shop the perimeter of the store. Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grain breads and fresh meat, poultry and fish are usually on the perimeter and less healthy foods are in the aisles.
- Drink enough fluid: water, tea, coffee, soups and fruit and vegetable juices. Alcohol has empty calories. The old recommendation to drink eight glasses of water usually isn’t necessary. You should drink to satisfy your thirst. (Washington Post)
I’ve also written a column on Anti-Aging: 7 Nutrition Myths
My Plate for Older Adults is an excellent reference.
An easy way to practice good nutrition is to cover your plate primarily with vegetables, fruit and grains with a small serving of protein.
Quantitative nutritional guidelines
Here’s what the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020 – 2025) recommend for all adults regardless of age. The guidelines include recommendations for daily caloric intake from 1,600 calories per day in increments of 200 calories to 3,000 calories per day in increments of 200 calories. I picked these two as examples.
|Food Group||2,000 calories / day||2,800 calories / day|
|Vegetables||2-1/2 cups or equivalent, e.g., juices||3-1/2 cups or equivalent, e.g., juices|
|Fruits||2 cups or equivalent, e.g., juices||2-1/2 cups or equivalent, e.g., juices|
|Grains||6 oz.||10 oz.|
|Dairy||3 cups milk or equivalent, e.g., yogurts and cheeses||3 cups milk or equivalent, e.g., yogurts and cheeses|
|Protein foods||5-1/2 oz.||7 oz.|
|Oils||27 gm||36 gm|
|Other (Alcohol, sugar, saturated fat or more of an above food group)||13% of total calories||15% of total calories|
Types of macro nutrients:
- Carbohydrates 45 – 65% of total calories
- Protein 10 – 35% of total calories
- Oils 20 – 35% of total calories
- Added sugars – less than 10% of total calories
- Saturated fat – less than 10% of total calories
- Sodium – less than 2,300 milligrams per day
- Alcoholic – not recommended; however, if you drink then two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less per day for women.
The Dietary Guidelines also have recommendations for vegetarian and Mediterranean diets.
Eating fruit and vegetables for snacks is an easy way to increase these and they have fewer calories than many other snacks. If you don’t like these try dipping carrot or celery sticks, etc., in mustard to add some flavor.
Experiment of one. The above are the recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We’re each an experiment of one and one or more of the recommendations may not be right for you.
I’ve written related columns on:
- What’s the Best Food for Cycling
- Nutrition for Performance
- What Should a Beginning Cyclist Eat and Drink part 1
- What Should a Beginning Cyclist Eat and Drink part 2
My eBook Healthy Nutrition Past 50 covers:
- The key role of carbohydrates in providing the energy you need and many of the vitamins and minerals.
- The role of protein, how much you need and nourishing protein choices.
- The important role of fat in your diet, and healthy choices to get that needed fat.
- The principal vitamins and minerals you need.
The 28-page Healthy Nutrition Past 50is $4.99.
Eating and Drinking Like the Pros I researched what riders in the pro peloton eat before, during and after a race. The answers may surprise you in terms of the variety and seemingly unusual nature of some of their food and drink. But the findings hold lessons and benefits for cyclists at all levels. We all require energy and replenishment of lost minerals and nutrients when we ride. Eating and drinking like the pros offers us the same nutritional benefits, which we can customize to our own needs. The eBook includes a dozen recipes for home-made drinks, gels and bars that are as nutrition as commercial products, often tastier and much cheaper. The 15-page Eating and Drinking Like the Pros is $4.99.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes chapters on how to meet the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing, balance and flexibility exercises. I include sample weeks and months for different types and amounts of exercise. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100 mile rides. I include a plan to increase over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. You can easily modify the plans for different annual amounts of riding. I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. I combine the different kinds of training into programs that balance training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.