Lance Armstrong announced last week that he is making a comeback to competitive sport. One of the most brilliant athletes of our time, Armstrong has proven to all of us that we are capable of achieving greatness. At 36 he is not old, but physiologically speaking, the typical disadvantage would be his recovery time, which slows down with age. His advantage (in addition to his experience) will undoubtedly be the team of trainers, nutritionists, massage therapists and physiotherapists working with him, ensuring maximum muscle tissue repair and prevention from injury. Not to mention, he is sponsored by a pharmaceutical company……(but that’s a whole other story!).
However all older athletes have the ability to decrease recovery time through other modes; contrast therapy baths, stretching, increasing blood flow to the muscles through extra walking and activity (double this up with your social time), getting lots of sleep, and generally taking care of yourself. The best veteran athletes undergoing heavier training schedules often prioritize their recovery needs more than their younger competitors, simply because they cant get away with it like they used to!
Then of course there is experience. An athlete who has been in the game 15 years has been put through every situation possible, developing the mental toughness and strategy that simply cant be taught. Even if the younger athlete is fitter, stronger and faster, when its time to shine, remaining calm and collected is key. Older athletes often respond better to pressure situations, learning from their mistakes. Being a good athlete is not the same as being a good competitor; and this factor alone can decrease the physical deficit that age has created and in a sense, compensate for such differences in age.
The average age for Olympians at 2002 in Utah was 25 for women, 26 for men. Yet many athletes have broken the considered model age to compete at elite level, for example, the oldest competitor at the recent Beijing Olympics was 67 years. (equestrian).
Older athletes may not be able to recover like a 20 year old, but they can still maximize their muscle tissue repair and make the most of what they are. With every workout, take the time to warm up and cool down. Eat clean, stay hydrated and choose nutritionally balanced meals (with adequate protein). Stretch as frequently as you can, no matter how much motivation it takes. Keep moving – this will improve your blood circulation and speed up your healing.