Have you trained properly for your stage of life? A physician’s guide to maximizing cycling’s potential at every age
The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates, often described as the father of medicine, would have made a distinction Sports manager cycling team.
More than 2,500 years ago, he advised that “the surest path to health” was to give everyone “just the right amount” of nutrition and exercise. The word hormone also originates from ancient Greek, a term meaning “to set in motion” – which is the case because hormones have been moving our way to optimal health and functioning from the moment of conception.
Hormones are usually described as internal chemical messengers that travel in the bloodstream, and are beneficial to the function of cells, tissues, and organs. These vital regulators are found in the body in different types: Sex steroid hormones including oestradiol and testosterone. anabolic “body building” hormones such as growth hormone; Stress response hormones such as cortisol. and hormones such as thyroid hormone that control the rate of metabolism.
Hormones are much more than just messengers. They are more like executives, guiding the DNA in cells to produce the most beneficial proteins, in the right amount and at the right time, for optimal health and fitness.
Understanding our hormones and their key influences at every stage of life can help us keep them in balance, which in turn helps us reach our full potential. So let’s take a look at the specific role of hormones in each of the seven stages of a cyclist’s life.
Age 0: Children’s bikes – from – to (and their parents)
While a preferred genetic model is a good starting point for future cycling success, unfortunately we cannot choose Olympian parents. During pregnancy, the baby’s endocrine system—the body’s network of hormones—is matched to the expected outside world; Expectant parents who stay fit and healthy pass on an endocrine system primed for activity to their child.
Essential tips for expectant mothers:
- Stay healthy and active in order to “train” the endocrine system of the fetus.
- Keep exercising, but at a lower intensity—follow the advice of CW digital editor and new mom Michelle Arthurs Brennan in our guide to cycling and pregnancy
- Don’t eat more or less than necessary during pregnancy – you need about 200 extra calories per day in the last trimester
Age from 0 to 14 years old: children’s bicycles
The main action of hormones during childhood is directed towards growth. Many of the adult endocrine systems, such as those that generate energy for intense exercise, are not yet fully developed. This is why the first piece of advice for parents wanting to encourage their children to take part in cycling is to focus on fun and skill, rather than promoting intense or high-volume training.
Children should not do high-tension interval sessions, and the volume should be limited – the number of hours per week (including exercises at school) should not be higher than the child’s age. Too much training too soon can be counterproductive and lead to mental and physical exhaustion.
Essential tips for parents of aspiring child cyclists:
- Focus on encouraging enjoyment, not the high training load
- Encourage the development of bicycle handling skills
- The weekly exercise hours should not exceed the age of the child
Age 14-20: Teen cyclists
During the teenage years, there is an explosion in the production of sex steroid hormones: mostly testosterone in men and estrogen in women. This leads to variability in physical and physiological characteristics, although the timing of these seismic hormonal changes varies between individuals.
From now on, the male scheme of training cannot be applied to women. So the basic advice for this age of riders is to avoid high training loads while the hormone networks settle into adult patterns. The absolute maximum volume is 15 hours per week, including daily and school activities. The quality and quantity of sleep is especially important in this age group, to support changing hormones during adolescence – teens need at least eight hours a night. As Macbeth said to Shakespeare: “Sleep is the chief nourishment in the great feast of life.”
Essential tips for teenage cyclists:
- Hormones change at different rates during adolescence, so the optimal training load will vary greatly depending on how far an athlete has progressed through puberty.
- Less time on electronic devices and more time sleeping will support your teen’s hormonal networks
From 20 to 40 years: young adults
A cyclist’s young adult years, from about 20 to 40 years old, should see hormones in full force to drive beneficial adaptations to training. To let your hormones work their full magic, we have to go back to Hippocrates’ advice: You need to find your personal healthy balance between training, rest, and nutrition. And don’t forget the importance of sleep for optimal cycling performance – after all, when we’re asleep, many performance-building hormones, such as growth hormone, are released. You really do get fitter while you sleep.
We are more flexible as adults, but training hard can still compromise performance. Too little recovery relative to the training load can lead to overtraining syndrome. Too little energy consumption compared to energy demands from training and daily life will result in a relative energy deficit in sport (RED-S). When this happens, we have insufficient energy to keep the hormone networks running smoothly and the body necessarily goes into energy saving mode and downregulates the hormones. Over time, performance drops and it can take many months to recover. Hence, young cyclists need to maintain a personal, cyclic approach to all aspects of their schedule: the training itself, as well as the nutrition and recovery that supports it.
Essential tips for young cyclists:
- Balance between training and racing, along with work and other demands, to protect your hormone networks
- Recovery and sleep are vital components of the training schedule. The cumulative lack of recovery relative to the training load reduces positive hormone responses to training, which can lead to overtraining syndrome.
- Aim to maintain an adequate amount of energy for the required work in a consistent pattern. Inadequate fueling and/or improper fueling timing cause decreased energy availability and downregulation of hormone function. This can lead to RED-S with negative effects on health and performance in the long term
Age 40-60: the elderly
As a cyclist transitions into late adulthood, middle age, from around 40 to 60 years old, certain hormones begin to decline. In particular, for both men and women, lower levels of growth hormone and testosterone mean that to maintain performance, it is important to adjust training and nutrition. Strength training becomes a priority to maintain muscle mass and fit body composition. Combining this with an adequate amount of protein – at least 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day – will mitigate the tendency to lose muscle tone in the face of declining hormone levels. Furthermore, preserving metabolically active muscle mass will help prevent the “middle age spread” where fat is deposited in the abdominal area. These lower hormone levels apply to both male and female cyclists.
For the mathematicians, this age of cyclist represents the most dramatic degradation of all hormone networks. Menopause is the cessation of the menstrual cycle, during which the ovaries stop producing the cyclical changes in estrogen and progesterone. The consequent low levels of ovarian hormones affect mental and physical health. Given the advances in life expectancy, many women nowadays spend at least a third of their lives in the hormonal state of menopause. Rightly so, these women want to continue cycling and competing. In fact, staying active and exercising is one of the best ways to face the challenges of menopause. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with estrogen and progesterone has proven particularly beneficial for female athletes. However, competitive cyclists should be aware that testosterone is on WADA’s prohibited list, so a TUE is required.
Key tips for professional cyclists:
- Include weekly strength training exercises as part of your training schedule.
- Consume plenty of protein
- Factor in extra recovery: Add at least one more rest day per week, and never train while feeling fatigued
60 years and over: Older adults
Cyclists transitioning into the senior ranks of cycling, starting at age 60, should be aware that anabolic hormones continue to decline. Therefore, the quality of training rather than its quantity becomes a priority, as does regular strength training throughout the year.
There is good evidence that strength training has beneficial effects on body composition, muscle mass and bone strength. One study involving a group of men in their 70s found that resistance training improved their muscle strength to rival untrained men aged 25!
Equally important, research maintains that women who do strength training have greater bone mineral density and even height than women of the same age who do not do strength work. A large study out of the press showed that the combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training has a synergistic effect in promoting a long and healthy life.
Essential tips for older cyclists:
- Continue cycling to mitigate the effects of lowering hormones.
- Focus on quality rather than quantity
- Above the resistance! This is the time to do more strength and resistance exercises, not less.
Age 75 and over: Super Veterans
Shakespeare described the last age of “man” in a somewhat unequivocal way as “dotage”, which implies a loss of abilities. But from a hormone perspective, a “second childhood” is a more appropriate description, as the motivators of health and performance drop to low levels. If you can, you should continue cycling, as there is mounting evidence that being a professional athlete puts you in a good position to counteract the effects of declining hormones in old age. In addition, continuing some form or strength training is very beneficial for counteracting the tendency to lose muscle mass and function. Aside from the beneficial physical effects, the social aspect of keeping in touch with cycling buddies is an important part of staying happy and content into old age.
Essential tips for more mature cyclists:
- Keep riding! Being a lifelong cyclist will help mitigate the effects of lowering hormones
- Stay connected with your cycling buddies, as this keeps all the important social interactions going
Medical problems: When hormones go wrong
Hormones can be affected for reasons other than age. These are the main cyclists’ culprits:
Training and recovery from beating: Suboptimal hormone function can occur due to an imbalance in cyclists’ behaviors around training, nutrition, and recovery. This can cause minor issues of fatigue, poor sleep, and poor performance on the bike. The red flag in men is decreased libido; In women, it’s irregular periods. The good news is that this is not a medical condition and full hormone function can be restored by realigning behaviors.
Missed periods: For female cyclists, missed periods should never be dismissed as inconsequential, as they can be a sign of an underlying health problem such as RED-S.
diabetes: In type 1 diabetes, the body’s ability to produce the hormone insulin goes awry, which means blood sugar levels are out of control. Early symptoms include fatigue, thirst, and an increased need to urinate.
Hypothyroidism: Anxiety and weight loss can occur due to an overactive thyroid gland. An underactive thyroid gland can be associated with fatigue and weight gain.
This article was originally published in the print edition of Cycling Weekly. Subscribe online (Opens in a new tab) And have the magazine delivered straight to your door each week.
To find out more, Dr Nicky Keay’s book Hormones, Health and Human Potential ($19.75 / £16.99) is available at:
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