Tag Archives: Masters

What CrossFit Masters Athletes wish CrossFit Trainers knew.

Crossfit masters athletes are a growing part of crossfit communities, crossfit boxes and client bases.  Many Masters Athletes have felt ignored or that our unique experiences, injuries and needs are misunderstood by crossfit trainers who have had little knowledge about working with our age group.  Accordingly many are seeking community, support and advice from their peers on Crossfit Masters webpages and facebook groups.  The Crossfit Masters group CFMasters now has over 7,000 members from around the world.  Other groups,that support primarily Crossfit Masters women or masters within a specific age class are also popping up.  Many group members have questions that are masters specific:

  • How long does it take masters to recover from _______ (add type of injury here)?
  • How are other masters dealing with insomnia, or muscle soreness, or flexibility problems?
  • Do masters athletes have specific nutritional needs?
  • What can I do to get faster, stronger, leaner etc.?
  • How are hormonal shifts impacting my performance?

Masters crossfit athletes, masters athletes in general and the need for more research

crossfit masters athlete John Mariotti
Crossfit Masters Athlete John Mariotti trains for the crossfit games

The explosion of interest in participation in Masters Sports and Athletics is quite recent.  The pace of research to address masters athletes needs is just warming up.  Or possibly still parked in the driveway.  Most of the research available to us has focused on health and functionality among the elderly.  While it is useful to look at these studies, studies about us masters would be greatly appreciated.  (Will be writing more on what we have so far soon.  Take a look at our archives for now.)

For Crossfit Trainers working with Masters Athletes: what you should know

Masters Crossfit Woman Training
Crossfit Masters Woman Angie Bender Competes in the 2014 Masters Crossfit Open
  • We want to be treated like athletes, but there are somethings that make us different than other athletes.
  • Understand that we will modify as we physically need to; we are not slackers. We are seasoned enough to distinguish muscle pain from joint distress and will protect ourselves from injury — Leanne Cantrell of CrossFit Mandeville
  • That our joints don’t work the way they used to. Find ways to help us get under the bar more efficiently, to get our elbows up into position, to engage our shoulders — addition from CFMasters athlete
  • “the first thing that came to my mind wasn’t on the list. Specifically that we need substantially more warm up, warm down, and stretching time. Oh, and aligned with some of the other thought already written – that coaches should ask us about our physical state, fitness and health history, any injuries we might have and our goals.”
  • Understand that our eyes are changing and that we don’t have the depth perception we used to.  This makes box jumps harder.  Its also harder for us to shift between near and far vision.  That also makes it harder for us to do box jumps and slows us down.
  • Vision issues can also make it harder for us to be as agile.
  • Many masters men will be concerned about testosterone.  Testosterone can be boosted by working out in a supportive (and co-ed) environment.   Crossfit is perfect for that.  As far as we know working out in a gung-ho co-ed group doesn’t increase cancer risk.
  • We are more likely to rupture a tendon or kill our shins and shoulders.  Have an emergency plan for first aid and for serious injuries.
  • ” New masters athletes appreciate mentoring by experienced masters athletes. Coaches can ask the experienced ones for this support.”
  • “Masters athletes may need to vary our level of intensity, weights or volume from WOD to WOD due to joint stress or other flare ups, I so appreciate when our coaches work on technique instead of going for better times or heavier weights that day.”
  • “That we have learned to finish what we start. Sometimes you just have to let us go to a corner and finish the WOD. We may not be the fastest. But we are persistent.” CFMaster
  • Cheer us on too.  We appreciate it.
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Here are a few articles that are specific to masters athletes.  We’ll be summarizing these soon.  Keep in touch.

Sillanpää E, Häkkinen A, Laaksonen DE, Karavirta L, Kraemer WJ, & Häkkinen K (2010). Serum basal hormone concentrations, nutrition and physical fitness during strength and/or endurance training in 39-64-year-old women. International journal of sports medicine, 31 (2), 110-7 PMID: 20222003

 

Sallinen J, Pakarinen A, Fogelholm M, Alen M, Volek JS, Kraemer WJ, & Häkkinen K (2007). Dietary intake, serum hormones, muscle mass and strength during strength training in 49 – 73-year-old men. International journal of sports medicine, 28 (12), 1070-6 PMID: 17497592 Another article of interest is: Position Statement (2010). Selected Issues for the Master Athlete and the Team Physician Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42 (4), 820-833 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d19a0b

High protein diet is protective for older people, but may be unhealthy for others

We’ve written several articles on the apparent benefits of a higher protein diet for the older athlete.  Loss of muscle mass starts fairly early and loss of strength is often apparent by middle age.  We do not know how much protein intake is ideal for humans.  High protein diets for older people have been geared towards controlling sarcopenia.  Sarcopenia is the term used to describe the muscle loss that happens as people age.  Sarcopenia is a major cause of frailty.  Osteoporosis, where loss of calcium from bones leads to brittleness and fractures, is the other big problem.   Sarcopenia and osteoporosis can be worse for women who have less bone mass and less muscle mass to start with.  A number of studies have shown that older people preserve more muscle if their protein intake is increased.  If older people can preserve more muscle that should mean fewer people needing assisted-living.  Exercise, including resistance exercise also helps preserve muscle.  Exercise also strengthens bone and protects against osteoporosis.  As for the older athlete, preservation of muscle mass may provide a competitive edge.  For more easy-going people, preservation of muscle mass may mean:

  • less of the sinking feeling you get when you realize you know exactly where your body should have been when you took that flying leap for a frisbee.
  • fewer pained expressions on the faces of children when you fail a back flip
  • less aggravation opening jars
woman masters crossfit athlete high protein diet
Masters Crossfit Athlete competes in the Crossfit Games Open 14.1 in the 50-54 age category.

A new study by a team of researchers from the US and Italy examined protein intake in adults over age 50 compared with rates of Cancer, Diabetes, Mortality in general and IGF-1 (a growth hormone) levels.  Study subjects were divided into two groups: ages 50 to 65 and those over 65.  For people ages 50 to 65 a high protein diet increased risk of cancer, diabetes and death in general.  IGF-1 levels were also higher in these adults.  IGF-1is a growth hormone that may preserve muscle mass, but may also increase risk of cancer.  Middle-age users of deer antler velvet, which contains IGF-1, beware.  Researchers also found that people who ate more plant protein had lower death rates than people who ate more animal protein.  In bullet points:

High protein diet for people age 50 to 65

  • High animal protein diet increased risk of cancer by 400% in adults 50-65
  • High animal protein diet Increased risk of death by 75%
  • High animal protein diet increased risk of death from diabetes-related causes by 500%
  • High plant-based protein diet showed little to no increase in death or cancer risk

High protein diet for people over age 65

  • high protein diet reduced risk of cancer and death in people over age 65
  • Risk of death from diabetes-related causes was the same as it was for adults 50-65

Conclusions for dietary protein intake:

The researchers in this case also compared epidemiological findings with data derived from mice, which is unusual.  One of their conclusions was that a low protein intake diet during middle age followed by a high protein intake in later age may “optimize healthspan and longevity.”  I would add some considerations to that:

  1. It didn’t seem to be protein in itself thatwas the main culprit in the study, although there was some interesting data on ifg-1 levels and protein intake.  One of the problems with some forms of animal protein (meat) is that carcinogents (cancer causers) may form during high heat cooking. 
  2. Animal fat will contain more lipophilic chemicals than vegetable fats.  Some lipophilic chemicals build up in humans over time. 
  3. It seems likely that something besides protein is causing the problem. 
  4. There may be other considerations for post-menopausal women, who seem to weather aging (functionally) better when protein intake is higher.
  5. People age 50-65 are different than people 65 and older.  The 65 and older group may already have weeded out people who were vulnerable to heart disease.  (This would probably not hold for cancer).

High protein diets have been popular for a number of years now.  High protein diets, especially meat based high protein diets, have been especially popular in the Crossfit Community.  Unless you are a middle aged adult, a high animal protein diet may be bad for your long-term health.    It would be nice to know what the results would be if high-fat/high protein/poor lifestyle/obesity was separated from high protein/healthy lifestyle/healthy weight.  Hopefully the researchers will continue this line of inquiry. 

 

Levine, M., Suarez, J., Brandhorst, S., Balasubramanian, P., Cheng, C., Madia, F., Fontana, L., Mirisola, M., Guevara-Aguirre, J., Wan, J., Passarino, G., Kennedy, B., Wei, M., Cohen, P., Crimmins, E., & Longo, V. (2014). Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population Cell Metabolism, 19 (3), 407-417 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.02.006

Gregorio L, Brindisi J, Kleppinger A, Sullivan R, Mangano KM, Bihuniak JD, Kenny AM, Kerstetter JE, & Insogna KL (2014). Adequate Dietary Protein is Associated with Better Physical Performance among Post-Menopausal Women 60-90 Years. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 18 (2), 155-60 PMID: 24522467

Beasley JM, Wertheim BC, LaCroix AZ, Prentice RL, Neuhouser ML, Tinker LF, Kritchevsky S, Shikany JM, Eaton C, Chen Z, & Thomson CA (2013). Biomarker-calibrated protein intake and physical function in the Women’s Health Initiative. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 61 (11), 1863-71 PMID: 24219187

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smart and athletic

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Caffeine and Coffee have been used by athletes to improve athletic performance and to make training easier.  Research is also indicating that coffee may also reduce risk of cognitive decline that comes with age.  A recent study sought to determine which is responsible for the positive effects of coffee on function:  Coffee itself or caffeine?  Aged (or Masters as we prefer to call them) Rats who drink the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee a day do better at cognitively and physically challenging tasks than rats who were given only caffeine supplements.

The Rat Coffee Study Design

All rats were male.  And aged.  Which for rats means about 18 months old.  Rats were given divided into groups and given either

  • Rat chow spiked with powdered coffee
  • Rat chow spiked with the equivalent of plain caffeine

for 8 weeks.  Rats were then subjected to a battery of psychological and neurological tests:

  1. Rod walking:  requiring the animal to balance on a stationary, horizontal rod
  2. Wire suspension: measures muscle strength and ability to grasp a horizontal wire and remain suspended
  3. Inclined screen: measures muscle tone, strength, stamina, and balance by placing the animal on a wire mesh screen tilted 60° to the horizontal plane of the floor
  4. Accelerating rotarod: measures fine motor coordination, balance, and resistance to fatigue by assessing the duration that the animal can remain standing/walking on a rotating, slowly accelerating rod.
  5. Keel hauling.  Rats were immersed in water at one of four random start locations. Each rat was allowed 120 s to escape onto the platform
  6. Plank walking, which measures balance and coordination making the animal walk a plank set out over the starboard bow at a height of approximately 20 feet above shark infested waters.

Now that is a workout.  Performances were recorded with video for submission to the CrossFit Games 2014.

Coffee Performance vs. Caffeine Only Performance

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The rats who got the powdered coffee did better than the rats who received caffeine supplements.   What does this mean for us?  Coffee, like most foods, is a complex mixture containing hundreds if not thousands of different chemicals.  These chemicals include vitamins and minerals, but there are also many many others whose actions we don’t yet understand.

We also understand very little about how different nutrients interact.  We also know little about the effects of taking too much.   This is why it is better to eat a healthy diet of real food than to rely on supplements or No-Doze Monster drinks or whatever that stuff in the tiny bottles is called.  College students take note.  Masters athletes: Hold off on massive anti-oxidant supplements.  Anti-oxidants at high levels can damage DNA.

Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smarter and more athletic

 

Last note on coffee:

10 cups is probably too much.  No note was made on how jittery and neurotic the rats felt.  High coffee consumption is associated with other problems.

 

Cropley V, Croft R, Silber B, Neale C, Scholey A, Stough C, & Schmitt J (2012). Does coffee enriched with chlorogenic acids improve mood and cognition after acute administration in healthy elderly? A pilot study. Psychopharmacology, 219 (3), 737-49 PMID: 21773723

Cho ES, Jang YJ, Hwang MK, Kang NJ, Lee KW, & Lee HJ (2009). Attenuation of oxidative neuronal cell death by coffee phenolic phytochemicals. Mutation research, 661 (1-2), 18-24 PMID: 19028509

Shukitt-Hale B, Miller MG, Chu YF, Lyle BJ, & Joseph JA (2013). Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (6), 2183-92 PMID: 23344884

Masters Athletes Testosterone. Masters Athletes keep it high.

Masters Athletes Testosterone

WODMasters  Masters CrossFit Athlete with way more Masters Athletes testosterone
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Testosterone makes men . . . men. Testosterone, of course, is a hormone.   Testosterone is important for normal sexual function. But testosterone’s role in other aspects of men’s health and well-being is sometimes overlooked. Testosterone maintains muscle and bone.  It drives production of red blood cells.  It directs the distribution of body fat giving men a masculine physique.  Or at least not a feminine physique. Testosterone keeps minds sharp and energy levels high.   Testosterone levels fall with aging.  Testosterone starts to decline when a man reaches the age of about 30. From age 30 on, men can expect a 1% drop in testosterone every year.   Few enjoy the process.   Aging is frankly scary.  And its something none of us of ever imagined would actually happen to . . . us.

What is Normal Testosterone?

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Testosterone levels in men can vary quite a bit.  “Normal” levels are levels that allow a man function normally.   Men whose testosterone levels fell between 300 and 1000 ng/dl (nanogams per deciliter) are considered to be within the normal range.  On average older men have lower testosterone than younger men.   But there are many factors besides age that can lower testosterone.  Lack of sleep, stress, getting dumped, problems at work, even something as simple as losing an athletic competition can cause testosterone to fall.  Some people believe that men should take testosterone supplements to offset natural declines.  And many men report feeling stronger, sexier and more energetic when they take them.  There are a few problems with supplementing with testosterone, including some serious health risks.  There is an alternative.  Before running to the doctor or giving up you can become a Masters Athletes.  If you are already a Masters Athlete . . . keep it up.

Masters Athletes Testosterone.

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Masters Athletes do not share many of the changes in body composition, function, hormone profiles or metabolism that their sedentary peers experience.  At least not to the same degree.  This is according to a recent study of a small group (20) of Masters Athletes compared to a small group (28) of sedentary peers.  Masters were found to have:

  • Greater VO2 Max
  • Greater peak power output
  • Higher salivary testosterone
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower percent body fat

There was no difference between Masters Athletes and Sedentary Peers in

  • Cortisol
  • Fat Free Mass
  • Total Body mass
Masters Athletes testosterone is higher
Being a masters athlete preserves testosterone. Note lack of baldness and rugged masculine appearance. Ignore the slack jaw and dull eyes. This guy is smarter than he looks. This Masters Athlete wears WODMasters Stuff.

Here is an interesting question that wasn’t apparent reading the paper.  If Masters athletes have less body fat and the same amount of Fat Free Mass as sedentary peers what is the source of the Masters Athletes mass?  Probably not blood volume, since blood pressure is lower.  Body hair perhaps?  From less balding?  If anyone would like to go over the paper and let me know what I’ve missed it would be greatly appreciated.

 

Hayes LD, Grace FM, Sculthorpe N, Herbert P, Kilduff LP, & Baker JS (2013). Does chronic exercise attenuate age-related physiological decline in males? Research in sports medicine (Print), 21 (4), 343-54 PMID: 24067120

Masters Athletes: life-long physical activity helps keep your brain from falling apart

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Masters athletes complain about aches and pain just as much as anyone else.  Maybe more.  They may complain more because they tend to hurt themselves fairly often.   Masters athletes can be surprisingly competitive about who hurt what more.  Let’s be honest though, being competitive about pain is better than being depressed about it.  As we wonder about what is happening to our bodies its nice to hear some good news now and then, along with a little assurance that we are doing ourselves at least a little good.

Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters
CrossFit Masters Athletes may have a cognitive edge.  Hard to tell from looking at these two though.

Latest research on the benefits of life-long exercise on cognitive function (or “thinking” for those who prefer simpler terms.)

Most scientific journals publish on the first of the month.  This is when new research becomes available to the public.  Today’s post is about a new study published in the journal Neurolimage.  Researchers at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center report on brain structural differences between masters athletes and sedentary older adults.  This is not the same thing as functional differences.  However, structural changes in the brain during adulthood are just about never good news.  Unfortunately the brain changes as we age . . . and generally not for the better.  The masters athletes in the study were aerobically trained (runners not weightlifters) and ranged in age from 61 to 80.  Brains of masters athletes showed high white matter microstructural integrity than did the brains of sedentary people.  The brain contains white matter and grey matter.  Both are important.  However, white matter contains heavily myelinated neurons that transmit information to other neurons.  Healthy white matter is needed for the brain to function as a unit so you can find your keys and glasses and remember why you wanted them.  The white matter in masters athletes was specifically “healthier” in brain areas responsible for memory and for motor function.  Everyone appreciates memory.  Or at least misses it.  Masters athletes may be more attuned to changes in perception and coordination (motor function).

What else is new about life-long aerobic fitness and brain function?

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Masters athletes also had less “white matter hyperintensities”.  These white matter hyperintensities are thought to be demyelinated white matter (messed up brain matter).  They are associated with increased risk of stroke and dementia.  Not having them is a good thing.  Research continues to show that physical fitness is important for brain function.  Even just a few months of aerobic exercise can increase brain volume and improve cognitive function.  Anaerobic exercise like weight lifting may help too.  There just hasn’t been as much study of weightlifters and cognitive function.  For those of us who are CrossFit athletes:  Crossfit may also help maintain brain fitness, but its too early to tell.

 

Tseng BY, Gundapuneedi T, Khan MA, Diaz-Arrastia R, Levine BD, Lu H, Huang H, & Zhang R (2013). White matter integrity in physically fit older adults. NeuroImage, 82, 510-6 PMID: 23769914

Debette S, & Markus HS (2010). The clinical importance of white matter hyperintensities on brain magnetic resonance imaging: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 341 PMID: 20660506

Exercise Diet and Recovery: High Protein Intake Before Bed Increases Rate of Muscle Synthesis.

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Over the last few years a number of studies have looked at the importance of timing for nutrient intake.  A number of studies have looked at the timing of carbohydrate intake and recovery from intense exercise.  Others have looked at timing of carbohydrate intake and performance.   And of carbohydrate intake and recovery.  At least two research groups are now working on the effect of protein intake on protein synthesis while people are asleep.  This is important because:

A group of researchers from the UK and the Netherlands investigated the effect of protein consumption just before sleep and the rate of protein synthesis.

Protein intake and exercise study protocol (very brief)

  • Two groups of eight recreational athletes (All young men.  Total = 16)
  • Subjects did leg extensions and leg presses at weights close to each individual’s limit of ability
  • All subjects received same diet during the study
  • 8 were given 40 grams of protein just before bed.  Eight were not.
  • Muscle biopsies were taken at the time of protein intake, and 7.5 hours later.  After sleeping.

Protein intake and exercise study results

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Rate of protein synthesis was higher in subjects who received protein just before sleeping.  This is an important finding because:

  • It confirms that protein ingested just before sleep is digested and used to make muscle in humans.
  • Throws doubt on that old adage that you shouldn’t eat for several hours before bed
  • Protein intake before bed may may mean faster recovery for athletes
  • Protein intake before bed may help slow or prevent natural loss of strength and muscle mass in middle aged adults.
  • Protein intake before bed may help the elderly avoid muscle wasting.  This is a major factor limiting quality of life for the elderly.

Taking it to the next level

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The second research group (Groen et al. 2012) also looked at the effect of night time protein intake on muscle synthesis.  The gave a group of elderly men protein at night, directly to the stomach, while they were actually asleep.  Protein synthesis increased in this group too.   Few athletes, even devoted CrossFit men (or CrossFit women) will want to go to this extreme.  You never know.  It may be a very good news for elderly people with muscle wasting.

Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, & VAN Loon LJ (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44 (8), 1560-9 PMID: 22330017

Groen BB, Res PT, Pennings B, Hertle E, Senden JM, Saris WH, & van Loon LJ (2012). Intragastric protein administration stimulates overnight muscle protein synthesis in elderly men. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 302 (1) PMID: 21917635

Strength, Masters Athletes and Finger length ratios.

Masters Athletes are markedly different than other athletes. Loss of muscle mass may begin as early as the Mid-20s. And the rate of loss increases once a person passes the age of 60 or 65. Good news is that resistance training and exercise increase muscle anabolic response. Even for older people. Muscle maintenance or increase in muscle mass may be aided by additional protein intake. Especially in Masters athletes and older people in general.

Masters Athletes and Finger length ratios.

Masters Athletes. As with most things, people vary.  People may be more or less likely to lose strength and muscle mass as they age. One of the factors that may be important is the amount of androgens (testosterone) an individual was exposed to before birth (Halil et al. 2013). There is not much that can be done about this now. Other than to keep working out and eating well.  But it might help to know if you needed to keep more of an eye out. And take steps to protect yourself by maintaining strength and fitness. There are plenty of Masters athletes, CrossFit and otherwise, out there. We will be keeping an eye out for masters athletes during the upcoming CrossFit Games. Hopefully someone is collecting all that data.

How to tell if you are likely to lose strength or stay strong.

The ratio of the index finger to the ring finger is used as a marker for pre-natal androgen exposure. (that’s androgens, such as testosterone, before birth). The longer your index finger is than your ringer finger = the more testosterone your were exposed to before birth. New research indicates the longer your ring finger is in proportion to your index finger the stronger you are likely to be in old age. A longer ring finger is also associated with better math skills and higher risk of autism. Ratio of these fingers is also associated with bunch of other interesting things. People with longer ring fingers are more likely to be varsity athletes in college and are more likely to find success in sumo wrestling (Tamiya et al. 2012).

CrossFit workouts for people with long index fingers

If you have relatively long index fingers, don’t panic. There’s no point worrying about something you can’t change. But you can continue to do CrossFit workouts. And keep weight lifting. And being active. Resistance exercise is probably the best thing you can do.

 

Giffin NA, Kennedy RM, Jones ME, & Barber CA (2012). Varsity athletes have lower 2D:4D ratios than other university students. Journal of sports sciences, 30 (2), 135-8 PMID: 22132823

Halil M, Gurel EI, Kuyumcu ME, Karaismailoglu S, Yesil Y, Ozturk ZA, Yavuz BB, Cankurtaran M, & Ariogul S (2013). Digit (2D:4D) ratio is associated with muscle mass (MM) and strength (MS) in older adults: possible effect of in utero androgen exposure. Archives of gerontology and geriatrics, 56 (2), 358-63 PMID: 23219021