April from Run the Great Wide Somewhere, Erika from MCM Mama Runs, and Patty from No-Guilt Life. The week's topic is Free! So I decided to share with you my latest project from school as it relates to my blog! I had to pick a topic of interest to lead a discussion board post as well as give a 10-minute presentation. I had to write most of it out so below is what I found out. Incase you don't want to read:
- It is said that peak athletic ability happens in the 20s with more sprint sports peaking earlier than endurance sports
- it does seem to be supported by literature but the longer the endurance sports get (Ironman and ultra-marathons) the later the peak seems to be
- it does seem that athletic ability has peaked in both humans and animals and most improvements can relate more to technology (the Ted talk from David Epstein is awesome)
- There are things that can help to prevent injuries and keep you in top shape: HIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), Nutrition, Sleep and Rest (I could not find articles on the importance of rest)
Santrock (2013) describes how most people reach peak athletic performance levels somewhere between the ages of 19-26. For elite athletes, this seems to be a difference based on the level of activity. For example, sprint and strength activities such as gymnastics and swimming seem to peak in the late teen years, while more endurance based activities like golfers and marathon runners peak in their late 20s. Along with peak athletic performance, muscle tone and strength start to decline around age 30 and he even mentions “sagging chins and protruding abdomens” (Santrock, 2013, p. 436) become more the norm.
To me, that is a bit depressing. As someone that is physically active and always striving to get stronger and faster, is this really the end of the road? Am I destined to get slower from here? So that is my focus: Does athletic ability truly peak in early adulthood?
The literature seems to support this notion of peak athletic performance in early adulthood. Allen and Hopkins (2015) found for explosive/sprint events like swimming, the peak performance age was around 20 years, and for athletic throwing events like the discus or javelin the peak performance age was 26. For endurance events, like long distance cycling, they found a peak performance age of 39.
Lara, Salinero and Del Coso (2014) found similar results when analyzing the top 10 New York City marathon (a distance of 26.2 miles) finishers from age 18-75 in 5-year age brackets from the race in 2010 and 2011. For this subset, the fastest times were recorded at age 27 for men and 29 for women. The results were found to be a U-shape with times dipping to their lowest/fastest point at 27 and 29 and then raising back up as people age.
Stiefel, Knechtle, Rust, Rosemann, and Lepers (2013) found peak performance for qualifiers for Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, which consist of a 2.4 mile run, 112 mile bike ride and a marathon run, to have an average peak age of 32 for men and 33 for women.
Rust, Zingg, Rosemann, and Knechtle (2014) found the peak performance age for ultra marathoners, which is an all-encompassing term that includes either 50-100 kilometers, 50-100 miles or 6-24 hours races, to be 34 for both men and women. However, for the races at the upper end of those limits, the peak is closer to age 40.
The literature does seem to support the notion that for events that require short bursts of energy, the peak seems to be early 20s while more endurance events seem to peak later with the longer the race, the later the peak even extending into middle adulthood. This may be because athletic events requiring short burst of energy seem to favor faster reflexes of younger athletes whereas the more endurance events take time to build up to that event, which can take time.
Also of note is the small difference between male and female peak times. The articles above all mention the fact that this difference is most likely due to greater physiological characteristics that males possess such as more muscle mass, lower body fat, higher rate of VO2 max (the maximum amount of your oxygen your body can use), and higher lactate threshold (the intensity level that lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood) among other characteristics (Lara, Salinero and Del Coso, 2014; Rust, Zingg, Rosemann, and Knechtle; 2014; Stiefel, Knechtle, Rust, Rosemann, and Lepers, 2013).
Even with all of this information about when athletic peak performance occurs, there may not be much that will change in the future. Berthelot, Sedeaud, Marck, Antero-Jacquemin, Schipman, Sauliere, Marc, Desgorces, and Toussaint (2015) found that peak performance has reached a point of stagnation lately in both humans and animals even though people are getting taller and stronger. So there may be a limit on how fast and far we can go, which may also mean that our peak performance is stuck in its current ages. The reason for this stagnation is because of instances like genes, environment, economics, social reasons, and random factors such as weather.
David Epstein does research in this area of if humans are truly getting faster, better and stronger. He has a great TED talk on Innovation, Democratization and Innovation in sports and how these terms are helping people get faster and stronger. Check it out if you are interested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8COaMKbNrX0
So even though it seems peaks in athletic performance happen in early adulthood, there are of course athletes that continue to see great personal success through their 30s and 40s such as Tim Duncan, Meb Keflezighi and Dana Torres among others. So what can be done to help ease the transition during and after peak athletic performance to allow for the body to continue to perform at a high level?
High-intensity interval training (HIT) as defined by Gibala, Little, MacDonald, and Hawley (2012) is exercise that consist of brief all-out bursts of activity with periods of rest in between. Gains from HIT training can be seen in physiological measurements, performance and health markers equal or surpassing tradition training(Burgomaster, Howarth, Phillips, Rakobowchuk, Macdonald, McGee, and Gibala, 2008; Gibala et al, 2012; Weston, Taylor, Batterham, and Hopkins, 2014). Burgomaster et al (2008) conducted a study where half the subjects did traditional/regular endurance training (40-60 min of cycling, 5 days a week) while the other half did HIT training (30 seconds full-intensity, repeated 4 to 6 times with 4-5 minutes of rest in between, 3 times a week). The HIT group was found to have physiological markers, such as a VO2 max, at or slightly above the traditional group even though their training was only 3.7% as long as the traditional group (10 minutes versus 4 and a half hours).
This study and others like it suggest that HIT helps ease the stress of growing older as well to help the adapt without the typical wear and tear that is put on it during athletic training.
Sleep is an important biological function that helps to rejuvenate the body while resting. A lack of sleep has been shown to have negative effects on diverse areas such as athletic performance, learning, memory, cognition, among other things including death. When looking at specifically athletes and how sleep effects their performance, Sargent, Lastella, Halson and Roach (2014) found that shorter amounts of sleep were associated with pre-training fatigue. Many of the athletes they studied were getting an average of six and half hours of sleep a night instead of the recommended seven. Some of this difference could be due to early morning workouts. If you are an early morning workout person, it is important to make sure your nighttime routine allows for adequate sleep time.
It has been determined that neurotransmitters that are associated with the sleep-wake cycle like serotonin, GAMA, melatonin and others, it may be possible to link nutrition interventions with sleep. An example is high protein levels could improve sleep quality as well as foods high in carbohydrates may promote sleep (Halson, 2014).
The research has shown that diet affects athletic performance. However, researchers cannot seem to agree on what that consists of exactly. Spriet (2014) found an interaction between carbohydrates, fat and protein before and after an event can affect athletic performance. Fluid intake is also crucial for athletic performance. However it is very individualized what the ratio of each of these should be so it needs to be personalized. It can take a lot of trial and error to get to a point where the body responds optimally (Spriet, 2014).
So we have covered a few of the main points in how to prepare your body, what do older athletes think? Dionigi, Horton and Baker (2013) interviewed forty-four competitors from the 2009 Sydney World Masters Games, whom ranged in age from 56-90 with a man of 72. What do they have to say about their performances? Many of them discussed the idea of “use it or lose it”, that one has to continue training and being physical active as well as insuring they were active in every day life. Another theme discussed was to adapt and modify, they knew they would decline in speed and strength so the compensated by developing new skills or maybe even changing to a different sport. Some discussed the genetics side and that they had a family history, including an “innate determination” (Dionigi et al, p.310) that allowed for them to continue to compete . Some of them discussed an internal motivation of liking to push themselves to try and improve and continue to train and compete.
Allen, S.V., & Hopkins, W.G. (2015). Age of Peak Competitive Performance of Elite Athletes: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 1-11.
Berthelot, G., Sedeaud, A., Marck, A., Antero-Jacquemin, J., Schipman, J., Sauliere, G., Marc, A., Desgorces, F.D., & Toussaint, J.F. (2015). Sports Medicine, 1-9.
Burgomaster, K.A.,Howarth, K.R., Phillips, S.M., Rakobowchuk, M., Macdonald, M.J., McGee, S.L., & Gibala, M.J. (2008). Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. Journal of Physiology, 586, 151–160.
Dionigi, R.A., Horton, S. & Baker, J. (2013). How do older masters athletes account for their performance preservation? A Qualitative Analysis. Ageing & Society, 33, 297-319.
Gibala, M.J., Little, J.P., MacDonald, M.J. & Hawley, J.A. (2012). Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease. Journal of Physiology, 590 (5), 1077-1084.
Halson, S.L. (2014). Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(1), 13-23.
Lara, B., Salinero, J.J., & Del Coso, J. (2014). The relationship between age and running time for elite marathoners is U-shaped. Age 36(1), 1003-1008.
Rust, C.A., Zingg, M.A., Rosemann, T., & Knechtle, B. (2014). Will the ge of peak ultra-marathon performance increase with increasing race duration? BMC Sports Science, Medicine, and Rehabilitation, 6 (36), 1-15.
Sargent, C., Lastella, M., Halson, S.L., & Roach, G.D. (2014) The impact of training scheduled on the sleep and fatigue of elite athletes. Journal of Chronobiology International, 31(10), 1160-1168.
Spriet, L.L. (2014). Recent Advances in Sports Nutrition. Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(1), 3-4.
Stiefel, M., Knechtle, B., Rust, C.A., Rosemann, T., & Lepers, R. (2013). Extreme Physiology and Medicine, 2(27), 1-12.
Weston, M., Taylor, K.L., Batterham, A.M., & Hopkins, W.G. (2014). Effects on low-volume high-intensitty interval training (HIT) on fitness in adults: a meta-anaylsis of controlled and non-controlled trials. Sports Medicine, 44, 1005-1017.
So what do you think of this? Do you think athletic ability peaks in the 20s?