Yes, high-performance fitness over 40 is possible. In fact, you can thrive. Here’s what you need to know about workouts, diet, and hormones.
Forty. That’s where society generally sets the bar for the onset of old-manhood. It’s slightly arbitrary, but we can’t deny that athletic ability starts to decline somewhere around the fourth decade. High-level fitness over 40, well, just gets tougher to maintain.
But you can fight it. Decide that you’re going to do everything you need to keep kicking ass. This guide can help.
Assuming you’re an experienced lifter who’s just turned 40, you don’t have to necessarily start training differently, regardless of your training goals.
In fact, I get sick of guys asking how they should train now that they’ve hit forty. You don’t have to train lighter or less frequently, let alone join one of those weight-lifting-in-the-pool classes held at your local Y.
Do the rest of the stuff below and you won’t have to change a damn thing about your training, except maybe paying a bit more attention to recovery.
The ability or inability to move freely and without pain isn’t just a concern for old coots. Lack of mobility often rears its arthritic head in the forties, but few men bother to do anything about it until they have the fluid motion of a dry stick.
As distasteful as it may sound, consider enrolling in yoga classes. Or, you might instead consider Tai Chi, Jiu-Jitsu, or even ho-hum stretching and foam rolling. Regardless, pick one, grit your teeth, and start doing it. The true measure of someone’s youthfulness is often how well he moves.
Next to exercise and eating healthy, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
As you get older, desirable hormone levels often start decreasing, and undesirable hormone levels often start increasing. It’s nature’s way of giving you the finger. Primary among these diminishing hormones is, of course, testosterone.
Not only will it help you look and feel younger, but low testosterone has been implicated in heart disease. A meta-study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at over 100 testosterone studies and reported that low testosterone was associated with a host of possible conditions:
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- Narrowing of carotid arteries
- Abnormal EKG
- More frequent congestive heart failure
- Increased incidence of angina
- Increased body mass index
- Type II diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Insulin resistance
- More belly fat
- Higher death rate from all causes, including cardiac mortality
Ask for both “total” testosterone and “free” testosterone. While the numbers may indicate a “normal” level, you can pretty much ignore it and just use it as a baseline. We’re more interested in symptoms of low testosterone.
Signs that your hormonal low fuel light is flashing include an inexplicable rise in body fat, loss of muscle tone, an inability to make progress in your workouts, a faltering or non-existent erection, difficulty in concentrating or a waning memory, depression, a lack of “appropriate aggressiveness” (being forceful or assertive when the situation calls for it), and premature codgerdom in general.
If you exhibit any symptoms, consider testosterone replacement injections, which are the crème de la crème of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). 100 milligrams a week is sufficient for most men. Here’s a complete guide to TRT.
Subcutaneous shots (under the skin) have recently proven to be more efficacious than intramuscular injections. There’s less aromatization (less of the testosterone turns into estrogen) and less muscle scarring. Here’s how to do it.
As you get older, more and more testosterone converts to estrogen. Once estrogen levels rise unchecked, the risk of degenerative disease skyrockets. Atherosclerosis rates go up. The incidence of stroke increases. The risk of developing Type II diabetes goes up. Emotional disturbances become more prevalent. The risk of prostate cancer increases.
It doesn’t stop there. Erectile function suffers. Waistlines grow thicker. It becomes harder to put on muscle. And most seriously, high estrogen significantly increases the risk of flat-out dying.
When researchers monitored the estrogen levels of 501 men with chronic heart failure, men with estradiol (the most “potent” form of estrogen) in the normal range (between 21.80 pg/ml and 30.11 pg/ml) had the fewest deaths during a three-year period. Men with the highest levels (above 37.99) had 133 percent more deaths during the same period.
However, the men with the lowest estrogen levels (below 12.90) fared the worst as they experienced 317% more deaths. Clearly, estrogen levels play a big part in the health of your ticker, in addition to the health of a whole lot of body parts, body systems, and body functions.
- Increased abdominal fat
- Loss of muscle mass
- Low libido, decreased erectile function
- Increased fatty tissue around nipples
- Depression, emotional disturbances
- Lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)
Demand that your doctor write out an order for a “sensitive” assay. Here are the specific lab codes for the sensitive assay:
- LabCorp “Sensitive Estradiol” – Code 140244, 500108
- Quest Diagnostics “Ultrasensitive Estradiol” – Code 30289
- ARUP TMX – Code 93247
- Mayo Clinic “Enhanced Estradiol” – Code EEST
Normal lab values for male estrogen levels are as follows, but as long as you test somewhere between 22 and 28 pg/ml, you should be good:
- Age 40-49: 24.7
- Age 50-59: 22.1
- Age 60-69: 21.5
- Age 70-80: 21.9 pg/ml
These are chemicals in the environment that mimic estrogen. These chemicals, mainly heavy metals, synthetic chemicals like DES and DDT, and industrial chemicals like phthalates, grow in number and accumulate in more tissues each passing year.
These chemicals are found in foods, adhesives, fire retardants, detergents, drinking water, perfumes, waxes, household cleaning products, lubricants… virtually everywhere.
Although we don’t know the exact scope of damage caused by these chemicals, we have seen widespread reports of biological anomalies in both animals and humans in the last couple of decades (mutations, indeterminate sex organs, lessened fertility, more people listening to light jazz, etc.).
Case in point, in 1992, a team of reproductive specialists from Copenhagen announced that the sperm counts in the industrialized world had dropped 50% since 1938. (That means, in one way, you’re likely half the man your grandfather was.)
Furthermore, there’s plenty of evidence that these chemicals are a part of all of us. Researchers found that 75% of the samples taken from 400 adults contained significant levels of industrial xenoestrogens, whereas 98.3 percent of samples contained DHT and its derivatives.
To make matters even more troubling, different xenoestrogens appear to act synergistically so that their effects are magnified. To avoid these nasty chemicals, do the following:
- Shop organic
- Store your food in glass (not plastic) containers
- Don’t let plastic wrap touch your food when microwaving
- Use “all-natural” laundry detergents and household cleaners
- Use “all-natural” skincare and personal care products
- Avoid most plastics when possible, and don’t drink from bottled water that’s been exposed to the sun for any length of time.
While xenoestrogens are man-made monstrosities, phytoestrogens occur in plants.
Xenoestrogens accumulate in adipose tissue, while phytoestrogens are metabolized and booted out of the body quickly. As such, they’re not nearly the problem that xenoestrogens are.
Still, you generally don’t want too many of them around as they resemble estrogen molecularly and can act like the real deal. Phytoestrogens are also found in various foods, most notably in soy and soy protein. Avoid these products when you can.
Plenty of vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, which ameliorates the effects of estrogen. The chemical is found in decent amounts in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
Calcium d-glutarate is also a capable estrogen fighter in that it helps the body eliminate estrogen before the body reabsorbs it. You can find tangible amounts in grapefruit, apples, oranges, and the same cruciferous vegetables rich in indoles.
However, these fruits and vegetables can’t singlehandedly regulate whacked-out estrogen levels. At best, they should be regarded as estrogen “shifters” that can affect the amount of estrogen metabolites in your favor. You should avoid foods that shift the amount of estrogen metabolites against you, like soy products.
Given that elevated estrogen is such a problem, the supplement industry has spent a lot of time researching it and thinking about it. Here are the vitamins, nutrients, or compounds that seem to be the most powerful in normalizing estrogen levels:
- Boron: Decreases free estrogen levels.
- Curcumin: Reduces the effects of aromatase.
- Fish Oil: Specifically, DHA. Reduces the number of estrogen receptors.
- Green Tea Seems to inhibit aromatase.
- Resveratrol: Decreases aromatase activity.
- Zinc: Reduces activity of estrogen receptors.
Mitochondria are tiny organelles, which, as you can tell by the word, are kind of like teeny-tiny organs. Their main function is to power the cell. Without mitochondria, your eyes wouldn’t have the energy to track across this sentence. Depending on its energy needs, a cell can have one lonely mitochondria or as many as hundreds of thousands.
Metabolically active cells like liver, kidney, heart, brain, and muscle have so many that they may make up 40% of the cell, whereas other slacker cells like blood and skin have very few.
Mitochondria also control when a cell lives and dies – a process called apoptosis. If enough cells commit apoptosis enough times, it’s like a butcher slicing up a pound of salami – slice by slice, the salami, or in our case, the liver, the kidneys, the brain, immune system cells, even the heart, lose mass and effectiveness. Hence the diseases of aging.
The hardest-hit organs are those that are generally mitochondria-rich, like muscles, the brain, liver, and kidneys. Specific mitochondria-associated diseases range from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, various vaguely diagnosed muscle weakness disorders, and even Syndrome X.
Take a look at heart patients, for instance. Generally, they have about a 40% decrease in mitochondrial DNA. And, as evidence that mitochondrial deficiency might be passed down from generation to generation, the insulin-resistant children of Type II diabetics, despite being young and still lean, had 38% fewer mitochondria in their muscle cells. Mitochondria dysfunction has even been shown to predict prostate cancer progression in patients treated with surgery.
Clearly, mitochondria play a pivotal role in the genesis of a host of maladies, and maintaining a high degree of normal, healthy mitochondria could eliminate many of them.
- Coenzyme Q10: Supports mitochondrial function.
- Nitrates (found in spinach and beetroots): Improves mitochondrial efficiency.
- Vitamin D: Improves oxidative function in mitochondria.
- Baby aspirin: Acts as a mild respiratory uncoupler.
- Indigo-3G (Cyanidin-3 glucoside): Mediates mitochondrial fission.
- PQQ: May cause cellular mitochondria to proliferate.
- Resveratrol: In addition to its anti-estrogen and pro-testosterone properties, it increases the size of mitochondria and mitochondrial density. It also protects mitochondria from oxidative stress.
Your goal is to get between .7 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day. Now that recommendation isn’t the same one I’d make for someone who’s 25 and wants to put on 40 pounds of muscle; it’s the recommendation for those that want to live long, continually studly lives.
Likewise, avoid meals that are all carbohydrate or carbohydrate and fat. That means those days of a bagel with a schmear of cream cheese are gone. If you insist on a bagel, have it with lox, or turkey, or an egg sandwiched between the sides of the bagel.
If you have a salad at lunch, make sure it comes with plenty of chicken. Dinner should consist of steamed or grilled vegetables liberally doused with olive oil and accompanied by 4 to 6 ounces of meat (fish, beef, chicken, pork, etc.).
You’re likely going to need a quality protein supplement to augment your intake. Opt for a combination of micellar casein and whey like Metabolic Drive. And don’t skimp on the price. When it comes to protein powders, you often get what you pay for.
Place a few scoops in water or milk and drink as needed to hit your protein goal. Have a serving or two at bedtime to build lean tissue all night long.
Amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), supply up to 15% of a muscle’s energy needs during a workout, but use of BCAA can increase by up to five times, depending on the intensity and the duration of exercise.
If you don’t supply the protein through diet, your body cannibalizes your muscles. You can halt the cannibalism by ingesting the right type of protein before, during, and after a workout. And, if you spare muscle protein and negate protein degradation, you set the muscle up for regeneration and remodeling, otherwise known as growth.
The best way to do this is to sip a functional carb/high protein drink like Plazma before and during your workout.
And while most people know the value of consuming another high carb/high protein meal after a workout, it’s important that you do it within the first hour or two post-workout.
Get at least 20 grams a day from sources like beans, vegetables, fruits, oatmeal, multi-grain bread, etc. If you can’t eat enough fiber through whole foods, consider a source of psyllium husk-like Metamucil.
Before the 18th century, very few people had diabetes. Then came the invention of the high-speed milling wheel. Prior to its advent, flour was coarse. The bread made from it looked like it was filled with wood chips (and it pretty much was). As such, it was slow to digest.
But after the milling wheel rolled into the picture, bread was made from fine flour. It was easy to digest. In fact, it caused a spike in insulin-like you’d get from eating cotton candy. Diabetes eventually started to rear its ugly, serpent-riddled head.
It’s not much different today. A boxed food is generally made of highly-processed carbs, and they’re what cause a good deal of the obesity in this country. Stay away from them. Buy whole, fresh foods if possible.
Let’s get this straight, “grass-fed” is often a scam. All cows are initially grass-fed before they’re moved to the feedlot during the last few weeks of their life. That’s where they get fattened up with corn, which alters the nutritional quality of their meat.
Look for the terms “grass-finished” or “100% grass-fed” to make sure the meat you eat has the proper ratio of healthy fats and higher levels of vitamins.
Most “unrecognizable” foods, like things that come in tubes or strange packaging, are criminally short on nutrients. They often replace one “bad” nutrient (like fat) for another, and the result is something pretty pathetic.
Consider dairy products, specifically low-fat or skim milk. They take out the fat, but to preserve the creamy texture, they add powdered milk containing oxidized cholesterol. Similarly, removing the fat also removes the fat-soluble vitamins, which then have to be added back in. And when you drink them, these vitamins aren’t even absorbed unless you ingest some fat with the milk! So yes, drink whole milk, or at least 2% milk, but not too much as it’s calorically denser.
Likewise, traditional bread is made from flour, water, yeast, and salt, but something like Sara Lee’s “Soft and Smooth Whole Grain White Bread” has about two-dozen chemical ingredients in it.
A good part of how you think, feel, and function is based on your gut, or more accurately, the bacteria inhabiting your gut. As such, we need to both populate the gut with bacteria while also doing something to feed those bacteria.
Enter sauerkraut, which is made by allowing a mixture of shredded cabbage and salt to ferment for several weeks.
Adding just a little bit to your diet every day might help nearly every aspect of your health, from digestive health to heart health to skin health. Only buy the refrigerated stuff. Just make sure you don’t cook it, though, because that kills the good bacteria.
If you insist on attempting to fulfill your gut-bacteria needs with yogurt, at least avoid the stuff with sugar as it feeds competing bad bacteria. Buy stuff that doesn’t look totally industrialized and taste-wise is pretty much indistinguishable from a Dairy Queen Blizzard. You know, eat stuff that your great-grandmother would recognize as yogurt.
Multivitamins in supplement form, taken as a way to fulfill pre-determined nutritional requirements, don’t work. Not a lick. Research proves it.
For one thing, they use a one-size-fits-all philosophy. They’re all based on a bell curve, and while they may hold true for a 150-pound municipal worker named Phil, they might not hold true for sweaty athletes, bigger (or smaller) people, or you.
There are also so many possible interactions. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and, as such, are best taken with food. Iron shouldn’t be ingested with coffee or tea because tannins interfere with absorption. Likewise, iron interferes with the absorption of zinc and copper. Vitamins A and E can counteract K.
And then there’s the problem of phytates, which are compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. They’re problematic in that they interfere with the absorption of trace minerals. In regions of the world where phytate consumption is high but consumption of meat and seafood is low, you see epidemic mineral deficiencies that manifest themselves as developmental delays, mental deficiencies, dwarfism, and hypogonadism.
Lastly, multivitamins are made without seeing the big picture. Science has established that there are pretty much 24 essential vitamins and minerals, and it’s easy to see how some simplistic, two-dimensional thinking would lead to the assumption that you just have to isolate these substances, stick them all in pills, and feed them to the world.
However, we’ve seen that it usually doesn’t work. People don’t get healthy or stay healthy from ingesting multis. Maybe, just maybe, these nutrients aren’t supposed to be isolated and taken by themselves. Maybe they need to be taken in whole food form to be truly effective. Maybe the nutrient needs to work in conjunction with some (or maybe even all) of the micronutrients and phytochemicals intrinsic to the whole food source for it to work.
Eat from the vegetable and fruit horn of plenty. Throw fistfuls of raisins or frozen berries into your oatmeal or cereal. Keep apples, bananas, and bags of prunes around for snacks. Keep spinach leaves on hand and toss them into the pan before you scramble your eggs.
Chop and dice any vegetable you can find into bite-size pieces, drizzle them with olive oil, cover them with aluminum foil, and either throw them on the grill at high heat or in the oven at 425 degrees for a half-hour.
The key is variety and volume. Buy vegetables and fruits you’ve never heard of before. Make it a rule to introduce one new vegetable or fruit every week.
If you’re an athlete, you sweat and are likely deficient in zinc, which, along with selenium, maintains high testosterone levels and the immune system. If you’re a plain old human, you’re also likely deficient in magnesium, and magnesium alone is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body, ranging from muscle and nerve function to protein synthesis.
Likewise, certain minerals like chromium and vanadium help maintain regular blood sugar levels and insulin, the importance of which would take another 10,000 words to explain. Suffice it to say that these particular minerals are often in short supply, and athletes would do well to take them, preferably in chelated form. Elitepro Minerals is the best source.
If you’re able to spend between 15 and 30 minutes in the sun, pretty much naked, every day, without getting skin cancer or looking like an old catcher’s mitt, skip the vitamin D3 supplements. Otherwise, take 1,000 to 5,000 IU to enjoy increased cognition and better immune health and bone health while reducing the risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
If you’re already taking i-Well, you’re covered. The formula contains microencapsulated vitamin D3, which presents as tiny, water-dispersible “beadlets” that enhance uptake. This microencapsulated form is the most bioavailable and longest-lasting.
CoQ10 is what’s known as a pseudovitamin in that it’s essential for life, but it’s not essential to life that you supplement with it. Nevertheless, consider taking 90 to 200 mg. a day with food to reduce plaque in the arteries and feed mitochondria.
This compound may or may not directly extend lifespan; we’re just not sure yet. However, it can help protect us from insulin resistance, improve heart health, and work as a potent estrogen antagaonist and aromatase inhibitor. Take about 1800 mg. per day.
This substance, found in dark-colored berries and fruits, regulates the chemical master switch called AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). This master switch plays a huge role in determining how fat you are and how long you live. Take 2400 to 3600 mg. per day before meals.
We live in an omega-6 world and it’s killing us. Nature intended for us to have a two-to-one or three-to-one ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our body, but because of our fast-food, snack-food, meal-in-a-box way of life, this ratio is now more like 20 to 1 in favor of the omega-6s.
Inflammation is thus running rampant through our bodies, and the best way to stop it is to cut down on the omega-6’s and to start swallowing those beautiful amber fish oil gelcaps. Take up to 12,000 milligrams of a combined DHA/EPA formulation (such as Flameout) once a day.
Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a fatty acid found in high quantities in grass-fed beef. Since most of us don’t get much grass-fed beef, we’re likely deficient in this important fatty acid. Tons of studies have shown it has numerous health benefits and helps with body composition. Take about 1,000 mg. a day (products that contain the two isomers of CLA are the best).
Organ meats are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Learn to eat them.
They don’t get much nutritional attention, but herbs and spices are nearly as nutrient-dense as organ meats. Stock your pantry with a variety of them and use them on anything in any amounts your palate will tolerate.
Curcumin is one of those supplements that sometimes seems too good to be true because the stuff does everything. It helps enhance cardiovascular health, reduces body fat, relieves pain, and reduces estrogen levels, among other things. Take about 1,000 mg. a day for general health, more, as needed, to alleviate pain.
Make sure you use a formula that employs additional technology to make it more absorbable, though. Biotest’s Micellar Curcumin is the top choice. The formula contains solid lipid curcumin particles that produce 95 times more free curcumin in the bloodstream than highly pure, standardized curcumin with piperine. (Gota VS et al, 2010)
This product is the thinking man’s alternative to multivitamins. It consists solely of 18 nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables that have been desiccated, pulverized, and stored in a pouch. As such, Superfood contains all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals intrinsic to the fruits and vegetables it’s made from. Take two scoops a day.
The research behind saw palmetto as a prostate savior isn’t conclusive. We’re not sure that it relieves symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia or that it lowers levels of prostate-specific antigen. However, we’re fairly certain that it does lower levels of DHT while increasing levels of testosterone.
The latter achievements, and the possibility that it does help with the former, convince us that it merits inclusion in your health prescription. Make sure you buy a product manufactured using the “supercritical C02” method. Take between 160 and 320 mg. a day.
People who live by the ocean usually aren’t deficient in iodine because they presumably get plenty of seafood. Not so for landlubbers in Kansas. Years ago, practically everybody who lived far away from the ocean was deficient in iodine, so the Morton Salt Company started putting iodine in their salt. Iodine deficiency became a thing of the past.
However, with more people using exotic sea salts (which often lack sufficient iodine), not eating salt at all because of some doctor’s recommendation, or subsisting solely on restaurant food (most of which don’t use iodized versions), iodine deficiencies are back.
That’s too bad because iodine is crucial to human health. If you have dry skin or have trouble staying lean, you might be deficient. If you have mysterious fatigue or suffer from unexplained autoimmune diseases or depression, the same might be true. The nutrient also plays a pivotal role in heart disease and various types of cancer. The RDA is a mere 150 mcg. a day, but take up to 6 to 12 milligrams a day if you suspect a deficiency.
Green tea may be the one drink that lives up to a lot of its hype. It allegedly protects almost every organ system in the body and burns decent amounts of fat. One cup contains about 50 mg. of the active ingredient (epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG), but you need from 400 to 500 mg. a day to experience any appreciable fat-burning effects.
It’s one of the oldest drugs around, and if it were introduced today, the FDA would probably never approve it because it causes gastrointestinal bleeding in certain people. However, it’s a true miracle drug.
It keeps platelets from getting sticky, it curbs inflammation, and it seems to prevent prostate and colon cancers. It also serves as a mild respiratory uncoupler, preventing excess free radical leakage. One single 80-mg. tablet a day is all you need.
However, some research suggests that men who weigh over 150 pounds should take TWO baby aspirin a day for best results (at least heart-wise). Your doctor might think this is nuts, of course (potential gastrointestinal bleeding and all that), but the decision is yours to make.
T Nation earns from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate. Read more about our policy.