Forty – that’s where society generally sets the bar for the onset of “maturity.” Athletic ability, recovery and more start to slide a bit after the mid 30’s to 40’s. Things in general just don’t seem to work as well as they used to. You can accept it or fight back. I opt for the latter! Read on to get some tips on how to do this.
1 – Training – not much change needed
Assuming you’re an experienced lifter who’s just turned 40, you don’t have to truly start training differently, regardless of your training goals. You don’t have to train lighter or less frequently, let alone join the pink barbell club. Just hit the weights (caveats to follow) and remember to really focus on recovery. See my next article on training for these caveats.
2 – Pay attention to fluidity of movement.
The ability or inability to move freely and without pain isn’t just a concern for old farts. Lack of mobility often starts to rear its arthritic head in the forties but few men bother to do anything about it until they feel like an aged broomstick. Consider enrolling in yoga classes, or trying Tai Chi, Jiu Jitsu, or even plain old stretching and foam rolling. Quit complaining and just do it; flexibility is vital to overall health and function, especially as we get older.
3 – You need to maintain normal to high-normal levels of testosterone. 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. 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, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, insulin resistance and prostate cancer. 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’s
- More frequent congestive heart failure
- Increased incidence of angina
- Increased body mass index and visceral fat accumulation
- Type II diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Insulin resistance
- More belly/body fat
- Higher death rate from ALL causes, including cardiac mortality
4 – Get your testosterone levels measured.
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 want optimal not “normal.” See my other posts and videos about this. We’re more interested in symptoms of low testosterone.
Signs and symptoms of low T 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 “crankiness” in general.
5 – Use hormone replacement therapy (TRT).
If you exhibit any of the symptoms, consider testosterone replacement therapy, usually with injections or dermal application of testosterone. Please be sure to consult a qualified age management physician, not some non-medical internet/social media “guru.” In addition to testosterone, it is vitally important to monitor, and correct, any other hormonal deficiencies. This can include, insulin, cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, and thyroid. Again this is an entire other topic- see my other posts on this.
6 – Avoid xenoestrogens whenever possible.
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, accumulate in more tissues with each passing year. They are found in foods, adhesives, fire retardants, detergents, drinking water, perfumes, waxes, household cleaning products, lubricants… pretty much everywhere.
Although we don’t know the exact scope of damage caused by these chemicals, there have been numerous 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.
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 avoid these nasty chemicals, do the following:
- Shop and eat organic
- Store your food in glass (not plastic) containers
- Don’t let plastic wrap touch your food when microwaving
- Cook with stainless steel non-coated pans
- Use “all-natural” organic laundry detergents and household cleaners
- Use “all-natural” skin care 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.
- Use an infrared sauna as often as possible to detox as many of these chemicals as possible
7 – Avoid phytoestrogens.
While xenoestrogens are man-made, phytoestrogens occur in plants. Xenoestrogens accumulate in adipose tissue, while phytoestrogens are metabolized and booted out of the body relatively fast. As such, they’re not nearly the problem that xenoestrogens are.
Still, you generally don’t want too many of them around. Phytoestrogens are also found in various foods, but most notably in soy and soy protein. Avoid these products when you can.
8 – Take care of your mitochondria.
Mitochondria are tiny organelles in every cell whose main function is to produce energy for cellular function. Without mitochondria, your eyes wouldn’t have the energy to track across this sentence. A cell can have one lonely mitochondria or as many as hundreds of thousands, depending on its energy needs. 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, loses mass and effectiveness. The mitochondrial theory of aging thus explains that aging is primarily due to progressive mitochondrial dysfunction and death.
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 who were 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 well eliminate many of them.
9 – Take supplements for mitochondrial health.
Coenzyme Q10 supports mitochondrial function.
Nitrates (found in spinach and beet roots) improve mitochondrial efficiency.
Vitamin D improves oxidative function in mitochondria.
PQQ improves mitochondrial biogenesis (growth of new mitochondria). Resveratrol it increases the size of mitochondria and mitochondrial density and protects mitochondria from oxidative stress.
10 – Eat adequate protein with every meal.
Your goal is to get between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day. Spread this out over the course of the day.
Likewise, avoid meals that are all carbohydrate or carbohydrate and fat. If you have a salad at lunch, make sure it comes with plenty of chicken, salmon or steak. 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 casein and whey or just whey; buy quality products as well. When it comes to protein powders, you often get what you pay for. Use as needed to augment your intake from whole foods.
11 – Eat lots of protein just before, during, and right after a workout.
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 halt muscle catabolism, though, by ingesting the right type of protein before, during, and after a workout. If you spare muscle protein and negate protein degradation, you set the muscle up for regeneration, remodeling and growth.
12 – Eat plenty of fiber
Shoot for at least 20-30 grams a day, from sources such as nuts, 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. Another easy option is to mix 2 tablespoons of chia seeds with 1 teaspoon each of psyllium and flax seed. Mix and drink twice a day. This will provide satiety, fiber, and some extra protein.
13 – Avoid foods that come in a box or package.
Duh. I have preached about this over and over again. These foods are made with highly-processed carbs, preservatives and chemicals and are responsible for much of the obesity in this country. Stay away from them and buy whole, fresh foods.
14 – Try to buy grass finished or 100% grass-fed beef.
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 as well as higher levels of vitamins.
15 – Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut.
A good part of the way you think, feel, and function is based on your gut, or more accurately, the bacteria inhabiting your gut. As such, we need to help both populate the gut with bacteria while also doing something to feed those same 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 kind and don’t cook it (this kills the bacteria). If you insist on attempting to fulfill your gut-bacteria needs with yogurt, at least avoid the ones with added sugar as it feeds competing bad bacteria. We are still learning much about the microbiome. However eating adequate protein and fiber, and avoiding massive amounts of fats and simple sugars is very beneficial to the gut microbiome. Probiotic use is generally recommended too. Once again only buy a quality brand like Ortho Molecular, Metagenics, or Microbiome Labs.
16 – Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Eat the rainbow. Literally! The more colors the better. Throw 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 never heard of before and try to introduce one new vegetable or fruit every week.
17 – Take chelated minerals.
If you’re an athlete, you sweat and thus likely deficient in zinc, which, along with selenium, maintains high testosterone levels and the immune system. If you’re a normal human (not an athlete), 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.
18 – Take Vitamin D3.
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 3,000 to 5,000 IU every day to enjoy increased cognition and better immune health and bone health while reducing the risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
19 – Take Coenzyme Q10.
CoQ10 is best taken with food, to reduce plaque in the arteries and to fuel the mitochondria. If you take Metformin or statin drugs, it’s essential to supplement with CoQ10 as these medications can deplete it.
20 – Take Resveratrol.
This compound may or may not directly extend lifespan; we’re just not sure yet. However, it can protect us from insulin resistance and heart disease, and also promote mitochondrial biogenesis.
21 – Eat or swallow Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
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 fish oil tablets or liquid. Krill oil is great too. Or you can eat wild caught Alaskan salmon 2-3 times a week.
22 – Take CLA.
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. Numerous studies have shown it to be a potent cancer fighter, as well as playing a role in normalizing blood pressure, fighting cardiovascular disease in general, and helping with osteoporosis, inflammation, and even body composition. Take about 1,000 mg. a day (products that contain the two isomers of CLA are the best).
23 – Eat liver.
Organ meats are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. You can get it mixed with other organ meats and/or actual beef, which makes the taste much better. It’s like eating a steak! I get mine from US Wellness Meats.
14 – Use herbs and spices liberally.
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! Oregano, thyme, allspice, black pepper, garlic, capsaicin, and many others are great for the body and the microbiome! Speaking of spices, turmeric is a great one as it contains curcumin.
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, kills multiple types of cancer cells, 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’s employing additional food technology to make it more absorbable, though.
15 – Drink green tea.
Green tea has numerous health benefits. It’s great for providing relaxed focus due to the mild caffeine content and calming effect of theanine. It allegedly protects almost every organ system in the body, along with burning 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.
TRAINING IN YOUR 40’S AND BEYOND
The first tip is mental. You can still make gains, look great and feel healthy. However, you don’t need to be lifting heavy or striving to hit a new PR every workout. Limit the heavy strength days and focus on higher reps, slower reps, and other techniques to build muscle.
You can vary such things as load, volume, intensity, and frequency as well. The same goes for volume- watch the volume as too much can be detrimental as well. You can also utilize advanced techniques such as EDT (escalating density training), drop sets, rest pause sets and more!
Remember to just focus on recovery and quality sessions. This will allow you to look good without injury or excessive wear and tear on your body. This in turn will allow you to KEEP training hard without time off to heal injuries or nurse nagging joints.
The next tip is to use auto-regulation. I mean just listen to your body. If you feel rested, strong, and full of energy then go get it! However, if you feel a bit off, fatigued or just don’t feel it, then don’t force a hard workout.
Either rest, do some light cardio or just hit the weights but use lighter weights and just go for quality. Take an easy day. Your body will thank you! If a certain movement or exercise is bugging you then find an alternative. If presses hurt your shoulders, focus on shoulder flys and other variations. If you don’t like back squats, try front squats, lunges, or goblet squats.
Try rest pause reps and eccentric accentuated work. If you love certain machines and they feel right, do them. Hammer Strength machines, bands, kettlebells, and bodyweight movements are all great. Use everything you can to help you achieve your goals; variety is key!
The next important tip: focus on proper and adequate recovery. Make sure to utilize de-load or “easy” weeks every 4-6 weeks. Back off the weight and/or volume as well as the frequency. Spend more time just walking for active recovery.
Go get a massage on a regular basis. Your therapist can even do more advanced techniques such as deep tissue massage, Active Release Technique (ART), myofascial release, articular pumping, muscle activation technique (MAT), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) or other combinations. Ice baths or cold showers, Epsom salt baths and infrared sauna therapy are great to use on a weekly basis (several times a week is best).
Sleep is the most important of all. Sleep is foundational not only for training and recovery but also for health and longevity. Here are a few strategies:
Dim the lights 1-2 hours before bedtime- turn out the lights and just use candle light. At least try some blue blockers if you must have lights on. Keep the bedroom and/or house as cool as possible. No food for 2-3 hours before bed; and no alcohol! Meditate for 5-10 minutes before bedtime.
Turn off electronics – An hour before bedtime turn off your phone, TV, computer, etc. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the eye to parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in circadian rhythms. One study found that exposure to unnatural light cycles may have real consequences for our health, including increased risk for depression.
Practice gratitude– Right before you go to bed, jot down three things you’re thankful for. Get down on paper all your thoughts for the day. Write down your life goals and read them to yourself. Engaging in positive and motivational thoughts before bed markedly decreases stress levels.
Next up- add some mobility and flexibility work. Yes this must be done, not only for better training but also for optimal recovery and injury prevention. Start with some arm swings, leg swings, hip circles and some lunges. Use those bands! These are great for many movements: pull aparts, lower lat and chest stretches and more. You only need to do mobility/warm up for 5-10 minutes. Focus only on dynamic stretching before a workout; static stretching should be reserved for post-workout.
Think good fats, enough protein, intelligent carb timing, and supplements. These are important factors for everyone, but as we get older they can hurt or improve your training a great deal. A few staples for me are: Alpha Male® and Rez-V™ to help balance hormone ratios and elevate test levels, Flameout® and Curcumin three times per day. These are foundational for recovery and overall health.
And for workout nutrition (which becomes even more crucial as we age since the capacity for volume and ability to recover is already on the decline) Plazma™ is the most essential nutritional component of my diet and all of my clients’. Try to eat 4-6 meals per day to help keep your metabolism working well, stabilize blood sugar, and aid the digestive system.
I hate to say it, but at this age you need to think about your heart, blood pressure and general well being. I don’t need to tell you that I like lifting heavy and could pass on the cardio, but 30 minutes of
cardio three times per week of will do wonders for everything listed here. Sorry, sex doesn’t count. Get out there and hike, take stairs, ski, powerwalk, swim – whatever you like that elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat. – Amit Sapir
Nick Tumminello – Strength Coach and Author Use care with previous injuries.
You don’t just want to work towards your goal; you want to do so in a way that allows you to keep training, which means taking steps to reduce the risk of an exercise related injury.
Injury risk is usually increased in those with a previous injury. Most strength and conditioning professionals already know this, and clients and athletes will often tell trainers or coaches about previous injuries and return to training after rehabilitation as well.
Here’s some additional advice:
Progress the load you lift and the volume carefully around injured areas.
Be especially careful with movements and positions that were involved in the previous injury. For example, a person who injured his knee coming down from a jump in basketball should be extra careful on single-leg jumping exercises.
Don’t neglect injured areas; building strength around an injured joint is important. Specific training of injured areas has been shown to help prevent future injuries. – Nick Tumminello
Leg Extension Lee Boyce – Strength Coach and Performance Expert Stop trying to train the way you did when you were 20. I’m only 30, and this advice is solid for even 30 year olds.
At age 21, I hired a coach to help me with size and strength. And he would really push me to the limits of my work capacity. Many compound sets, trisets, and plenty of volume for size. Then lots of heavy eccentrics and tempo reps, and big compound lifts for strength. It was all good training.
Ten years later I’m still training hard but things have changed. Getting older means more responsibility, usually more work, and just plain having more mileage on your muscles, joints, and connective tissue. I put in the work, but wouldn’t dream of touching the workouts I did ten years ago.
Recovery isn’t something that happens in the blink of an eye like it does with a teenage or early-twenties body. Compiling age, stress, and the odd injury, you have a much greater need to take recovery more seriously and to train just as hard but smarter for your age and mileage. And if I’m feeling this at 30, I can imagine it’ll be even more apparent at 40.
Being big and strong is great, but it’s worth nothing if it has a shelf life and an early expiration date. – Lee Boyce
Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder – Get smarter with your training and diet.
Dang it. I’m that guy. But now’s not the time to throw in the towel and settle. I amassed 27 IFBB pro competitions heading into my 40’s with only a single thing missing – a pro win. Now nearly 43 years old, I won four contests in the last two years. Perseverance paid off, but it took training smarter too. The same goes for diet.
Plazma™ is my trump card in terms of beating father time on the recovery front. Aging impacts your metabolism, so you need to give more thought to what and when you consume calories. Staying in the single digit body fat percentile means consuming the preponderance of carbs around the training window.
As much as Plazma provides the fuel required to withstand brutal workouts, you’ll be well served to cut back on marathon workout sessions. Opt instead for more frequent training sessions, but shorter in duration.
Lately I’m seeing good progress with workouts lasting 60 minutes. The big difference involves moving as much weight via volume and short rest periods – density training. It invariably requires lifting lighter weight, but the total pounds moved in an hour are greater. Intensity is still high and failure is reached,
but not with a handful of max-weight reps. The limited rest periods (think 15-30 seconds) ushers in the growth with less weight. Your joints and achy back will thank you.
For example, try doing occluded extensions alternated with heels-elevated goblet squats for 3 rounds, then remove the wraps and rest 3 minutes. Repeat a second or even third time, alternating exercises until you’ve done each one 3 times. Small weight, nasty pump and maximal results from minimal weight. – Mark Dugdale
Christian Bosse – Olympic Coach – Optimize your training every session and use appropriate stimuli.
Use new technology to your advantage. There are different and affordable devices that can measure the movement velocity of exercises, also known as velocity-based training (VBT) and can accurately predict what your training maximum for the day is and prescribe training intensities from the individual daily training maximum.
Get familiar with RPE (rate of perceived exertion) based training. Instead of training on fixed percentages or with RM (repetition maximum) loads, you can use the RPE based training to adjust to daily fluctuations on how fresh you feel on a given day.
Use wellness data to track your recovery and training load. This includes acute training load and chronic training load. Tracking perceived recovery and especially acute and chronic training load can give you insights into your training readiness and you can make informed decisions on how intense you should train. – Christian Bosse
Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach I’m writing a book on this right now!
The main thing to understand for the over 40 lifter is battling something called anabolic resistance. That is, your body doesn’t respond the same way to stimulus for growth as efficiently as it does in your teens and twenties.
Probably the most important factor for experienced lifters over 40 is to consistently combat inflammation, and know that you’ll have to eat more protein to even retain muscle the way you did in your younger years.
Hormones play the biggest role in muscle growth when all things are equal in training and nutrition. And hormones in your 20’s are far more efficient for building muscle than they will be in your 40’s.
Since the hormonal response to training and amino acids are reduced in your 40’s (for example it requires more leucine to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in your 40’s than your 20’s), it’s imperative to identify the roadblocks that come with aging, and break them down.
To start, chronic low-grade inflammation is a key component in reducing insulin sensitivity. Seeing how it’s kind of important for insulin to work efficiently to transport nutrients into the cells for repair and recovery, then reducing inflammation should be paramount for the over 40 lifter to stay as “anabolic” as possible.
To reduce chronic inflammation and increase muscle protein synthesis as much as possible. Here’s how.
Take a high quality fish oil daily. It fights inflammation and improves muscle protein synthesis. Use intermittent fasting. Do it a few days a week for at least 16 hours a day. Try grounding. That is, walking outside barefoot. I know, it sounds like the biggest pile of hippy dog manure ever, but it’s actually proven valuable, and is possibly the easiest way to get some natural therapy on a number of fronts.
It’s even been shown to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Bump protein up to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight on training day and the day after, with an emphasis on increasing leucine, then reducing protein during fasting periods. Take measures to increase muscle protein synthesis as much as possible.
Fighting off Father Time is hard. It’s harder when you’re still using the same training, nutrition, and recovery protocols that you used in your 20s. – Paul Carter