As you enter into your 30s — and beyond — you’ll likely find yourself facing new challenges. In your 20s, you were in college, building the foundation of your career, dating, maybe finding the partner you want to spend your life with — but now?
You’re beginning to advance higher in your career. You may be busy raising your family or getting more serious in your relationship. And as you get busier with greater demands at work and home, you may start to notice a few things:
- There’s some more flab on your middle, and it’s harder to burn it off;
- Your performance in the weight room or on the road has slowed or reversed;
- Workouts and sporting events that you used to bounce back from seem to take you twice as long to recover from.
Clearly, your life has changed, and your body is too — but how, and why? “Work harder” is a solid mantra, but is there a better way to get your energy back, and trim that fat off? Whether you compete in pickup games of basketball, local sports leagues, or just like staying active — things start to change when you hit your 30s.
But by paying closer attention to your nutrition and making a few tweaks, you can maintain or improve your body composition — and stay strong and athletic in your 30s — and beyond.
Changes in your 30s
Obviously, you’re not 21 anymore. That workout challenge takes more out of you than it used to. This is a natural part of life; as you pass through the stages of adulthood, your physiological functions begin to deteriorate: muscle atrophy, bones weaken, sight and hearing diminish, and so on.
For most men, the 30s marks the beginning of a decline in muscle mass. A study found that those over 40 had a range of 16.6% to 40.9% less of muscular strength than those aged less than 40 years– that’s a lot.
One reason may be the hormone that physically makes you a man — testosterone. Starting around age 30, testosterone levels decrease by as much as 2% each year. Going along with the theme of age-related decline, it’s hypothesized that as your testicles age, their ability to continue making testosterone diminishes.
With decline in testosterone levels, you may have negative changes to your body composition: greater fat mass and decreased muscle mass, less energy, and slower gains in strength. These resulting changes in your body composition diminish your metabolism, further increasing fat mass if not addressed.
Plus, with less testosterone circulating through your body, you may wind up with lower libido and reduced sexual function — and nobody wants that.
So that may answer the question of why you’re having trouble recovering from lifting sessions — but what about your 6-minute mile going to an 8-minute mile?
That answer may be found in another study. According to this study, your peak endurance performance can be maintained until about 35 years of age, as a general guideline. From there, you’ll start seeing declines until about 50-60 years old. And beyond that, the drop off is steep.
This is primarily due to a progressive reduction in your Vo2 max — how efficiently you consume oxygen during exercise. As you age, your ability to use oxygen well during exercise diminishes, and you get out of breath quicker.
Another, similar marker, your lactate threshold, may also have an effect. That threshold — the point where the exercise intensity raises the level of lactic acid in your blood considerably above baseline — begins to reduce as well.
Eating to fight the decline
It is easy to think that age is just working against you, but just take it as a sign that you need to make some adjustments so that you can continue to thrive in your 30s. There are many things you can do to fight this decline, stay in tip-top shape, improve your recovery, and continue to enjoy your workouts, sports, and other activities.
Resistance training should remain a part of your workout regimen – and it is not too late to start if it is not. Training your muscles is a proven way to continue stimulating muscle growth no matter what your age, thus maintaining your metabolism and physical strength.
But a major focus should be on your diet as you enter — and move past — your 30s. Your body can’t burn off fast food and junk food as well anymore — so you need to clean things up.
You already know this one — eat protein. But, given protein’s role in rebuilding your body and maintaining lean mass, it’s worth saying again: higher-than Recommended Daily Amounts (RDA) of protein have shown essentially only positive results (to a point). That means eating about 1.2 – 1.6g/kg/day of protein.
Alongside stimulating muscle protein remodeling after exercise, higher protein diets help promote healthy aging, appetite regulation, weight management, and goals aligned with athletic performance.
Specific amounts used in studies vary by goal (weight loss, appetite regulation, athletic performance, etc.); however, there is evidence that specific guidelines for athletes can help optimize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) in men.
In a study on 6 healthy young men, intense resistance exercise was performed on 5 separate occasions. Following the exercise sessions, each participant received drinks containing either 5, 10, 20, or 40 grams of whole egg protein. The amount received was given in a random order, so that each volunteer received each of the amounts once over the course of the study. Protein synthesis alongside leucine oxidation was measured over the next 4 hours.
The study found that MPS was maximally stimulated with the 20g dose of protein immediately after exercise, suggesting that the optimal amount of protein for maximal muscle recovery is 20g immediately post-workout.
But further, as men age, they become less sensitive to lower protein intake — which means the older you get, the more protein per meal you need to eat. In your 30s, however, you’re still on the lower end of things, so a per meal dose of protein should be approximately 0.25g/kg of body weight (for a total of 0.8g/kg of body weight), which fits recommendations for men of all ages.
So if you weigh 84 kg — about 185 pounds — that means at each meal, you should consume roughly 21g of protein.
If you are more active and want to amp up protein intake a bit more, a practical and still-effective dose of protein per meal would be 0.4g/kg 3-4 times per day (for a total of 1.2 – 1.6g/kg).
Alongside protein, you need fats — healthy ones, that is. Among other reasons, this is because androgen hormones are affected by the fats that you eat. Androgens are hormones that create more masculine characteristics and are generally produced in higher amounts in men than women. They trigger and control male sexual development: greater muscle mass, lower body fat, facial hair, etc. Testosterone is the major circulating androgen.
Fat tissue also metabolizes androgens. By this process, these androgens (including testosterone) reduce the creation of new fat tissue, directly impacting the distribution of fat on your body — and especially reducing belly fat.
While natural androgens trigger male sex characteristics, artificial ones have long been used to improve performance in athletes. They are often banned due to their ability to improve performance considerably.
A 2013 study on 60 healthy men aged between 23 and 40 found that using argan and olive oil, rather than butter, improved their androgen hormonal profile. Among the hormone values measured, at the end of the study, participants testosterone levels had increased by 17.4-19.9%
Given what you now know about the decline of testosterone in men starting at age 30, you can understand why that’s a good thing — and rather than taking artificial androgens, consuming healthy fats, like argan and olive oil, can help you do that.
Ah, carbs — you’ve been told they’re good, you’ve been told they’re bad, but what’s the truth?
Truth: You need carbs.
As an athlete, you need carbs to provide energy and help you recover from hard workouts. Eating carbohydrates in the hours prior to exercise has in fact been shown to increase muscle glycogen stores, delaying the onset of fatigue and improving performance.
During long exercise events (>1 hour), consuming carbohydrates can improve performance as well, by preventing hypoglycemia and maintaining a steady supply of fuel.
But exercise performance aside, eating carbohydrates can help you maintain and improve good hormones, thus helping improve performance and body composition. A study was performed on a group of men to determine the changes in testosterone and cortisol levels in relation to high carbohydrates vs. low carbohydrate consumption.
Total calories and fat equal, testosterone was consistently higher in the men after 10 days on a high-carbohydrate diet versus a high protein, low carb diet.
Between the importance of carbohydrates on athletic performance, and their importance in regulating testosterone — an important, natural androgen — the conclusion is clear: to improve and maintain performance in your 30s, you still need carbs.
What kinds? Fruit aside, avoid simple carbs and focus on complex, slow-digesting carbohydrates. They’ll provide longer-lasting energy, improve digestion, and help you recover from your workouts.
Adapting to your 30s
Ultimately, eating for performance and health as you enter your 30s comes down to recognizing — and accepting — a few things:
- Your body is at the start of a long, gradual decline that will continue without intervention; and
- Paying attention to your food choice becomes an increasingly important part of preserving — and continuing to improve — your performance.
Once you accept these things, the next step is to consistently make the right choices. Eat healthy, whole foods — like lean meats, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs — and ditch the junk food (for the most part).
Stopping the decline and maintaining a lean body composition may be becoming more difficult now, but dialing in your nutrition can help you stay lean, strong, and athletic — in your 30’s and in the decades to come.