Older Underperformer

Hi There

I particularly would like to hear from the 45+ year old club that have success starting cycling later in life.

I’m sorry to hop right in to talk about me, but I have a question and need to start with some background and need your advice…

Sorry this is going to be a bit of a book…

  1. I am turning 50 this year.
  2. I’ve trained my early life as a fairly successful martial arts instructor with 10+ years experience. Most of my life has been fast twitch, explosive muscle type training. Kung fu, Judo, boxing.
  3. I am not really much into martial arts anymore. I had kids and my interested have changed. I got into endurance cycling and I love it! Fun to do and I can involve the kids in a fun activity.
  4. There are few “opportunities” for improvement…
  • I am overweight
  • I can’t just go into hard machine training anymore due to pain issues. I’ve got to take it a bit slower than I used to. Doctors got me taking 2 naproxen x a day for inflammation.
  • I’ve been injury prone (hernia) and now a ton of ligament issues that the doctors have reviewed and called “wear and tear” (perhaps from the martial art days).
  • My doctors advise strangely was there is nothing obviously structurally/mechanical wrong and she wants me to try to workout through the pain. I guess exercise is much better than sitting on my ass (which is good news cause I like it).
  • As much as I love cycling, I kind of suck at (typically in the bottom 5% of cyclists)
  • I struggle with depression sometimes
  • My nutrition is poor
  • In short I am a “pretty beat up war horse” that’s been punched and kicked a lot (punch and kicked more that I got though ;~)
  1. On the positive notes, I do have the discipline of martial arts around structured training. I’ve trained up to several hundred 100k rides/races per year (I couldn’t have imaged doing 5+ century rides a few years ago).
  2. I range from 3 to 10 hrs/week training depending of the season. Typically for longer endurance events like the Whistler Gran Fondo. 75 miles up mountain hard riding stuff.

I want to be “better” in many ways.

  • I want to be slimmer (currently 230 lbs (31%) fat)ouch…embarrassing but true)
    I know diet and exercise (there is the mental side of depression and dietary discipline (dieting sucks compared to ice cream))
  • I want less inflammation cause my body fucking hurts big time!
  • I definitely want to perform better in competitions (I want to be both explosive and fit endurance wise)
  1. I’ve had some success in the past few years, its not all bad. I’ve greatly increased the distances I can go. Just not really the performance…

  2. I am sort of stuck in a bit of a slippery slope of aging but I do see guys much older than me way out performing in cycling and say I can’t really use that as an excuse. I tend to train as hard as them I think, but I am way underperforming.

So my strange question is aside from the obvious diet and consistent exercise which I generally understand by 49 years of age, what other general tips might you have for an “old war horse” to turn my direction around perform? What tips surprises/worked for you?

1 Like

I’ll start with I’m no expert. Also old and a beat up old overweight ex rugby union prop who’s knees, hips and shoulders are pretty beat up.
I’ve found, for me, that sleep and rest are just as important as the exercise is. When I’m training I need at least 7.5 hours rest per day or I can’t make gains.

Hope this helps in some way.

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Also just to state that I’m no expert either. I’ll be 55 in four weeks time and have been cycling again about 4 years after a number of years off.

You should try starting with the low volume sweet spot plan and see how you get on with that. Add filler workouts at zone 1/2 to maybe Wed and Sun if you feel you can and want to.

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I’m 47, I did race at a pretty high level in my younger days. Had a 13 year complete break, gained almost 40 kilos got back on the bike at 39. Lost the weight fortunately. Things are going okay for me on the bike. I have also coached plenty of masters age riders. I believe that consistency in training, diet, lifting weights and heaps of good quality sleep make all the difference - but you knew that already I guess.

One big surprise for me as the years pass is seeing my preferred cadence declining. The reason (I believe) is that as we age our V02 declines so we naturally gravitate to lower cadences where the load is shifting from our lungs to our legs. When I was 40 I time trialled at 95 rpm+ now I am very comfortable at 88-90 rpm. Not a huge difference, bur definitely a downward trend that is still happening.

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A few things that I’ve learned as I get older (near 40) that resonate with me:

Avoiding injury is a really important training objective
As you get older its easier to over train. Intuitively, you would think doing “hard” workouts will get you fitter faster, but this is the wrong way to think about performance. The goal of training is to illicit the most response with the least risk / stress. You may get marginally better gains from more intensity, but you’ll easily lose those gains and more if you end up injured.

Rest it if it hurts:
Along the same lines of injury prevention - if something doesn’t feel right or is hurting in a new/novel way, better to rest it now. You won’t regret missing one or two workouts, but you will regret injuring yourself and missing weeks of training. (I have first hand experience in this)

You can’t out exercise a bad diet
As a fellow lover of ice cream, this one hurts. Even if you’re burning the calories you take in, eating badly is bad for you in other ways.

Set your own goals
Don’t focus on measuring yourself against others. The people at the top of your age group in races likely have a lifetime of training and racing- if you don’t you won’t be able to keep up. For example, I went swimming with a coworker that used to swim as a teenager but hadn’t been swimming in 10+ years. I had been swiming a lot for the past 2 years, but they destroyed me! So measure your performance against yourself and keep improving.

Also: hello from Vancouver!

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Read the book Fast After Fifty and use TR they will make you FASTER :+1:

Check out David Goggins on blocking out pain. https://youtu.be/78I9dTB9vqM

As far as diet, there is no magic formula other than eating healthy foods and counting calories in calories out. My Fitness Pal app will help. Junk food is exactly that JUNK! Stop eating it, plain and simple.

The depression part, you have to keep moving. The bike is one if not the best remedy for beating depression. Keep riding keep moving, it will change you life.

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From your various comments it seems like you know that your diet is shite but are resistant to change. I’ve been there and done that. When you are knee deep in it, pizza and ice cream are hard to live without.

At some point though you have to decide whether you want you be fit or fat and unhealthy. Like you I was 230 not too long ago. I’m 190 now and still inching down ever so slowly. I’ve gone from 1.9 watts/kg to about 3.3 now and I’m one of the faster old guys in our club (54 years old). I think I’ve got 3.8 to 4 watts per kg in me but it might take another couple of years.

My advice:

Don’t think of “dieting”. Just think about making forever changes. If you eat out 10X per week, cut it to 5. If you drink every night, try every other until you can get it to 1X per week. Start removing high glycemic sugars from the diet in favor of fruits, vegetables, and high quality healthy proteins. Just do a little at a time as these are forever changes.

If you ditch all the sugar, breads (essentially sugar), and low quality oils your inflammation will probably disappear and you won’t need pain relievers every day. BTW, naproxen will blunt your response to training.

For training, you might investigate polarized (aka 80/20) or MAF training. We have a few topics that you can read. Switching to polarized really helped build my aerobic base. From 11 weeks of low intensity base training last year I got a huge boost in endurance, stamina, and a 20 point increase in FTP.

The other thing that has really helped me is basic general conditioning and some weight training. I just do 10-15 minutes a day 5X per week and most of my old man aches and pains have gone away. I can do 5 hour bike rides pain free.

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For someone with no particular physical issues (other than being beaten up) this is a little bit worrying. If you are experiencing chronic pain/inflammation it’s something worth exploring further if you can.

Just for reassurance though, well done for getting to where you are. Consistency is the key and making small changes if you feel that you need to in terms of food etc. Maybe seek advice around depression/eating?

I have some tips for you.
Firstly ,get your diet in order, and lose weight. Look at Dr Will Bulsiewicz website, and read his stuff
Give up alcohol , if you are a regular drinker.
As a martial arts trainer you obviously have good self discipline, so make a plan and stick with it.
You probably arent underperforming, considering the things youve said on here.
But you can change all that if you follow the TR program .See others` suggestions

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I tend to be wordy, so I will try to keep this short and sweet:

  • A good bike fit. I’d been riding for 15 years and found a new fitter who is a ‘student of the game’, if you follow my drift. I’m still blown away at how much better I feel after some quite small changes.
  • Track your calories. The first couple of weeks suck, but you’ll get used to it. I thought I ate well and was amazed once I started tracking what I was actually consuming. Once you can see what you’re eating you can start making minor changes over time to improve it. And I still eat desserts and treats and ice cream, build the foods you enjoy into your diet plan. I also don’t like ‘diets’, you want to make lifestyle changes. If you drop weight and revert to your old food selections you’ll end up right back where you started.
  • Make a series of small changes over time. Don’t make big changes that you cannot sustain, make a small change, let it become a habit, then make another small change. For example, instead of regular ice cream, get frozen yogurt or that really expensive ‘healthy’ icecream. Or maybe start bringing lunch to work 1-2 days a week instead of eating out or at the caf. Then increase to 3, then 4. But phase in the changes slowly.
  • Structure your environment for success. I set out my kit at night so its ready to go when I wake up, so no excuses. Bike is always on the trainer so I don’t have to set anything up when it is time to workout. I stopped buying foods that I have trouble resisting to reduce impulsive over eating. Basically do what you can to plan ahead and eliminate things that lead to failure or having to make decisions that could lead to failures.