Just because we might be getting older and our bodies may seem to not want to perform the way they did in our 20’s and 30’s, it doesn’t mean we have to give up our passions for whatever sort of physical activity we love to do. It simply means we need to give our 40+ bodies what our 20 and 30 year old bodies once had in abundant supply.
After all, “aging” isn’t necessarily about the body wearing out, it just means the body essentially becomes less efficient in repairing the same sort of damage we experienced in our youth.
And with smart supplementation we can provide the nutrients the body needs to become more efficient again, thus helping us with being able to stay active and continuing to do the physical activities we love.
This article discusses helpful supplements for staying active and healthy aging, and also offers links to reputable products that can assist us with these efforts.
I hike with a women’s group once a week where the ages range from 40’s to 70’s. I’m on the younger end of that spectrum, but because I’m currently recovering from a 6-year bout with chronic fatigue syndrome (which affects my muscles’ ability to sustain prolonged physical activity similar to what aging bodies experience) my body needs a little help, and the products I take can also be useful for those who have a passion for staying active, even as their bodies are getting older.
After many of the ladies started asking me about supplements that can help them perform better on hikes, I put this information together for them. But no matter what activity you’re passionate about and wish to keep doing – be it hiking, dancing, walking, bicycling, running, weight lifting, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiing, etc. – if you find yourself getting fatigued more easily or unable to do as much as you used to because of increasing age, then some simple supplementation may be able to help.
Two important notes about supplements before we begin:
1) Don’t get overwhelmed by the information provided here. It’s not necessary to use all the products discussed in this article, although you can. (I do.)
My recommendation is to make a note of the ones that really speak to you or jump out at you, and start with those. You can always add the others later.
2) In the world of supplements, the brands you choose to use are very important. Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable brands out there who use cheap ingredients sourced from disreputable suppliers known for having purity issues. However, it’s easy to avoid this pitfall by purchasing only reputable, trustworthy brands. So, all the brands I recommend in this article are high-quality companies with reputations you can trust.
I will be posting articles in the future about supplement basics and a full list of high-quality, trustworthy brands. So, sign up for the Words of Wisdom email list if you’d like to know when these are posted. (We only send 1 or 2 emails / month. And we respect your privacy.)
A lot of ladies in my hiking group have asked me about taking electrolytes, so it’s probably a good idea to make a distinction between the function of electrolytes in the body versus the other helpful nutrients we’ll be discussing here.
Electrolytes are good if you're sweating a lot or are outside sweating in the sun all day or doing endurance-based activities like marathons (or if you have diarrhea) because these instances are the main ways the body loses electrolytes. In general, electrolytes help you stay hydrated, which is important because dehydration can lead to an overall feeling of fatigue.
An easy way to incorporate electrolytes into your activity is to use a powder form and add it straight to your water. Two good brands for powdered electrolytes are Emergen-C and Propel. If you prefer pills, Trace Minerals Research is a good brand as well.But even though electrolytes play a role in getting the muscles to move, they aren't what actually fuel the muscle cells themselves.
When muscles are doing work during activity, there are a few key amino acids they use to help power themselves during that activity: branch chain amino acids, glutamine and, in an indirect way, glycine.
BCAA’s are a combination of 3 specific amino acids that muscles require for fueling activity. When muscles feel weak or fatigued during activity, it's because they are essentially running out of BCAA's to burn for fuel, and without them in good supply the body will start breaking down muscle tissue to use as fuel instead.
So by supplying extra BCAA's, you're both providing fuel the muscles need for sustaining the activity and also keeping your muscle tissue from being used as fuel (which leads to fatigue). If you’ve ever “felt the burn” or had your muscles feel “jello-y” after activity, this means you’ve entered into a state known as catabolism, where your muscles are being broken down for fuel.
Glutamine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the body, and its levels naturally decline as we age. Glutamine is also fuel for the muscles during activity. When you're muscles feel "jello-y" or fatigued and sore, it's because your body has burned through your glutamine and BCAA stores and is breaking down muscle tissue to balance out the deficit.
(This is not something you want to have happen during activity because it's counter-productive.)
Having an ample supply of glutamine and BCAA's available helps keep your muscles from hitting the point of being fatigued, and the purpose of supplying these amino acids via supplements is to prolong the amount of time and amount of activity you can do before reaching that point of tissue breakdown and fatigue - or, ideally, eliminating that point all together.
Optimum Nutrition Pro BCAA - It comes in 4 flavors.
This a blend of BCAA's and glutamine with some antioxidants added in. The reason for the antioxidants is because engaging in activity causes toxins to be released in the body, and one of the things these toxins do is cause the muscles to fatigue. So, having antioxidants present during physical activity not only works to counteract the damage these toxins can do, but also helps the muscles experience less fatigue.
BCAA’s don’t dissolve in water very well and tend to end up being clumpy because of this. So a little trick I use is to add a tablespoon or two of water to the powder, mix it up really good, and then add the rest of the water. The addition of glycine also seems to help the BCAA’s be more soluble in water.
Glycine is a precursor to creatine, which is another nutrient the muscles need during activity. Creatine is involved in cellular energy production and is a necessary component of the physiological process that allows muscles to move. (As an extreme example of what happens when there is absolutely no creatine available... rigor mortis is the result of zero creatine being supplied to the muscle cells after a body dies.)
Now, we don't have to worry about being completely creatine deficient, like with rigor mortis, because the body keeps it supplied, but adding glycine before activity helps with increasing the amount of creatine available during activity and staving off fatigue.
You can also buy Creatine itself if you feel you need more of a boost in your muscle performance. Just note that pure creatine, when taken in large doses like what body builders do, tends to cause bloating because it retains water. So glycine can be a good alternative. Or just take a small dose (1/2, 1/4 or 1/8 dose) of creatine when you use it. (Please note: Do not mix creatine with fruit juices, as this combination creates a by-product that can damage the kidneys.)
There is no glycine (or creatine) in the BCAA + Glutamine product mentioned above, so you will need to add your own. Or you can try that one by itself first and see how you do. Then add the glycine (or creatine) later if you feel your muscles need a little more help.
One of the reasons I take glycine is because I can't do glutamine. (Glutamine stimulates the immune system, and I have an autoimmune disorder.) So, the powder I take before engaging in any activity that requires muscle strength and endurance is a blend of BCAA's and glycine. And then I add my antioxidants separately (see below).
This is the brand of glycine I use. Don’t be dismayed by the “hard core” look of the packaging. That’s simply done for marketing purposes because the majority of people who know about and use powdered amino acids happen to be body builders – but this is only because most regular people, like you and me, are simply not aware of the benefits of amino acid supplementation.
Tips for Best Results with Amino Acids
Amino acids should be taken on an empty stomach shortly before engaging in activity. (On hike days, I usually take them about 15 to 20 minutes before I eat my breakfast – which I eat just before or on the way to the hike.)
If during the activity, your legs start to feel a little "jello-y" or tired / out of gas, you can take another dose at that time. Just wait about 10 minutes before eating anything in order to give the aminos time to be absorbed into your blood stream and sent straight to your muscles.
You can also take them later in the day and even the next day if your legs feel "jello-y" or sore or stiff.
And if you don't want the flavorings in the BCAA + Glutamine product above, or if you prefer to purchase the amino acids separately and mix your own, the brands I use are Optimum Nutrition BCAA, NutraBio Glutamine (if I was still able to take glutamine) and Hard Rhino Glycine.
Being sure we get enough protein in our diets is important for anyone because the body is essentially made up of proteins, all the way down to the cellular level. And if we’re not supplying enough of it through our diets, the body will start “eating itself” – or becoming catabolic – to get what it needs for supplying critical functions. Most often, this means breaking down muscle tissue as a source of proteins and amino acids.
The various proteins in the body are made up of amino acids that are combined together in specific ways. When we ingest protein, the body breaks it down into the individual amino acids and then recombines those amino acids in different ways to synthesize whatever proteins are needed at the time. All cells are made of proteins (and other nutrients): muscle cells, immune cells, organs, hair, and so much more!
For certain groups of people, like those who engage in rigorous physical activity (and also vegetarians), supplementation can be a good way of making sure the body’s protein needs are being fulfilled. Protein supplementation is also helpful for those who are trying to lose weight or looking for low calorie snacks.
I will be publishing an article on helpful supplements for vegetarians to avoid common deficiencies.
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Protein powders generally come from whey, egg, rice, soy or peas and simply provide you with a concentrated source of protein. For instance, a glass of milk contains about 8g of protein, compared to a serving of whey which typically contains 24g of protein.
Everyone’s needs for protein are different, and when we’re physically active we need a little more. (Body builders and athletes need a lot more, but this article is for regular people doing regular people activity.) In general, 20 to 24g is a good serving amount of protein for active women. And active men can do as much as 30 to 40g per serving.
Helpful Protein Supplementation Tip
Adding a tablespoon of olive oil to protein powder not only provides a source of healthy fats, but also helps to slow down the digestion of the protein. This works to keep you satiated longer and it gives the body more time to utilize the protein for muscle building and cellular repair.
If mixing by hand, for best results, the olive oil should be added to the powder and mixed in before adding your liquid of choice. And to avoid having the oil make things clumpy, after mixing the powder and oil together, it works best to add a small amount of liquid, mix it well, then add the rest of your liquid.
If you’re a smoothie maker, you can use olive oil or avocados for your healthy fats boost, adding either one straight to the blender along with everything else.
Whey comes from milk and is the liquid part that’s left over during the cheese making process when the cheese curd is separated out. (Think of little Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey.) Cottage cheese still has some whey in it, which is why it’s liquidy.
The protein powder I use is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Natural 100% Whey. I prefer the Natural Whey because it uses natural sugar instead of artificial sweeteners. But if you need to avoid sugar, they also make a regular Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey that uses artificial sweeteners. The natural whey has a light yellowish/tan label and comes in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The regular whey has a red label and comes in a variety of flavors. Both come in 2 sizes.
You may also see several specialized types of protein powders like Isolate, Hydro Whey and Blended that are useful for certain goals and instances. But don’t get confused, sidetracked or overwhelmed. For beginners and average-joe’s, basic whey protein is a good place to start and all you really need.
I will be publishing an article explaining the different types of specialized proteins, who needs them and when to use them.
So, if this information interests you, sign up to the Words of Wisdom email list to be notified of new posts. (We only send 1 or 2 emails / month. And we respect your privacy.)
For vegans, getting enough protein is very important in order to avoid the body “eating” its own muscle tissue (aka catabolism). And getting enough protein becomes even more important when you're active or engaging in physical activity. Fortunately, these days there are many vegan protein supplement options from high-quality brands.
For plant based proteins, I prefer pea protein because soy protein can have an effect on hormones (and can also cause gas), and rice can be constipating. Most pea proteins seem to come in plain and vanilla flavor, but there are a few chocolate ones out there. You can also add your own flavoring to them.
Here are some good options for plant based protein powders:
Optimum Nutrition Plant Based Protein
This is a blend of organic pea, organic rice and organic sacha inchi proteins, along with ancient grains and organic pomegranate powder. It comes in chocolate, vanilla and berry flavor.
Nature's Best Plant Based Protein
This is another plant blend by a reputable brand. It's a blend of organic pea and organic rice proteins, and comes in chocolate, vanilla, berry and unflavored.
If you prefer rice protein, Nutribiotic makes a good one, and it comes in vanilla, chocolate and plain.
Protein Powder Flavors Tip
Word of note on using plain flavor protein… I’ve been into health food since the 90’s, so I’m used to the “cardboard taste” of many health food products, but the plain flavor proteins are a bit tough to take on their own, even for me. (They’re generally meant for baking with or adding to smoothies.) Since I don’t do either, I end up adding maple syrup or matcha latte powder when I use the plain flavor proteins.
Who doesn’t love snacks! And when you’re on the go or trying to lose weight or staying away from high calorie deserts, or you’re a vegetarian looking for creative ways to get enough protein, high protein snacks can be a good option.
There are a lot of protein snacks out there that are geared for “the hard core body builder types," but for regular, average-joe’s Optimum Nutrition and Power Crunch are two brands that aren’t scary lol.
(You may have noticed there are quite a few Optimum Nutrition brand products mentioned in this article. This is because it's a high-quality, sport nutrition company that remembers that regular, non-body builder types of people like to be active too.)
Optimum Nutrition Protein Ridges – high protein, baked chips for a savory snack with 15g of protein per bag. And they come in four yummy flavors: cheese, bbq, honey sriracha and sour cream.
Optimum Nutrition Protein Almond Snacks - grab & go packs of almonds dipped in a variety of coatings including dark chocolate truffle, cookies & cream, espresso and more. Each pack has 10g of protein.
Optimum Nutrition Wafer Bars – similar to those old-school wafer cookies from our youth, these low carb dessert bars have 15g of protein and come in four flavors: chocolate, vanilla, mocha and chocolate raspberry.
Power Crunch Protein Bars – these are the original wafer dessert bars, and they’ve been around for a long time. They have 14g of protein and come in a wide variety of flavors and two sizes of boxes.
A common complaint among anyone in their 40’s and beyond, whether they’re active or not, is having joint and inflammation issues, memory trouble, a loss of zip and vigor, and no one’s favorite… wrinkles. 🙁
So here’s a list of some great products to help combat some of the less fun aspects of aging, and most of which also support the body with being able to stay active in the things we love to do.
MSM is the mother of all anti-inflammatory nutrients and works very well in the body for helping with pain and joint repair. It also has significant anti-aging properties and is beneficial for the skin (anti-wrinkles), hair (anti-hair loss) and nails (strengthening). It's deficient in most foods because any kind of heating, cooking or processing destroys it. So as we age, we tend to become deficient in it.
When taking MSM, it's good to start with only 1000 mg (or less) for about 10 days because MSM also supports cellular detoxification, and if you over do it too quickly, all the toxins floating around on their way out of your body can cause you to feel a bit "yucky" until their gone.
You may even find you can take it just a few times a week depending on your needs. Personally, I've seen significant results from taking only 600 mg of powder daily or just a few times a week. Everyone's needs are different though, so listen to what your body tells you.
In general, I prefer powders because they’re super cost effective and easily absorbed by the body. These links are for powders, but if you prefer pills you can look for capsules by these same brands.
Cissus is a perennial plant related to grapes, which supports improved joint function and bone health, among other things. When I was managing supplement stores, I had a customer tell me he was able to avoid having rotator cuff surgery after taking this product. This may not be the end result for everyone, but instances like this one are certainly possible. In my personal experience with taking this product, I can say that it was very effective for me.
Cissus assists with getting healing nutrients into the joints - which generally have a poor blood supply because they're made of white connective tissue that has a limited capillary network.
A good course of action may be to try MSM first (see above), and if that isn't enough, try adding Cissus.
PrimaForce is a good quality brand.
Proline is another amino acid that supports healthy joints and is beneficial for the skin too (promotes smoothness by boosting collagen levels). It also supports elasticity in healthy arterial walls.
Proline has a sweet taste, so it's easy to do as a powder, but you can also get it in capsules in the brands mentioned below.
Note that proline is a hygroscopic powder, which means it absorbs moisture from the air and tends to clump easily. This normal, and you just need to smush it up or scrape it with the scoop when this happens.
Amino Acid Tip
When it comes to amino acids, powders are typically best and capsules are second best. Try to stay away from tablets.
NAC is a powerful antioxidant that helps the liver stay clean (which, in turn, helps the body in numerous ways). When taking NAC, you may tend to feel better in general because of its support of the liver.
The liver processes virtually everything that comes into our bodies and also eliminates toxins, so it plays a major role in how we feel physically. A healthy liver helps with keeping the body feeling “young,” and NAC helps with supporting a healthy liver.
One of the other things NAC is good for is supporting skin health (anti-wrinkle and brightening). And as a bonus, since it helps with boosting the liver's effectiveness, it's also a good “anti-hangover” nutrient.
Hangovers are basically the effects of dehydration, vitamin deficiency and your liver's inability to keep up with the detoxifying process by burning through its stores of vitamins and antioxidants.
(If I've been indulging in adult beverages, I will do a dose of NAC before going to bed, along with a vitamin B-complex and a vitamin C, plus a glass of water. But even doing the NAC alone is helpful when it comes to warding off hangovers.)
NAC comes in powder form, but it tastes very sour or tart, so I've provided links to capsules here. If you prefer to use a powder, you can look for powders in the brands mentioned below.
Acetyl L-Carnitine (or ALC), a derivative of the amino acid carnitine, is naturally produced in the body but its levels decline as we age. ALC has many roles in the body, but in keeping with the theme of this article, it delivers fats into the cells to be burned as fuel. This helps with muscle performance, of course, and it can help with fat burning as well. (Note that we are not talking about crazy fat burning like with stimulant products, but it still helps with mild fat burning none the less.)
Healthy Fats Fact
The metabolic process of burning fats for fuel supplies the body with more available calories (units of energy that support activity) than the burning of proteins does. This is one of the reasons why supplying the body with healthy fats from olive oil, avocados, etc. is useful, especially for those who like to be active. And it also helps with saving your muscles from being broken down and used as fuel during activity.
See the Helpful Protein Supplementation Tip above for ideas on incorporating more healthy fats into your daily routine.
ALC also protects against oxidative stress (the creation of cellular toxins that occurs during activity) and increases the performance-enhancing effects of BCAA’s. So it pairs well with the BCAA products discussed above.
Another anti-aging benefit of ALC is that it supports the brain and nervous system and promotes improved memory and concentration. In fact, it’s even known to be helpful with some Alzhiemer’s patients.
Tip For Vegetarians
Vegetarians are often deficient in Acetyl L-Carnitine because it’s mainly found in meat, especially red meat.
As discussed earlier, when muscles perform rigorous activity the process naturally creates toxins (this is known as oxidative stress), and the body must neutralize these toxins to avoid localized fatigue within the muscles, and cellular damage in general.
Antioxidants work to counteract the effects of oxidative stress, which allows the muscles to continue to perform for longer periods of time before succumbing to fatigue.
Two very powerful antioxidants that help especially well with oxidative stress are Vitamin E and Selenium. These two antioxidants are also synergistic, meaning they are even more potent together than either one is alone.
(Since I’m not able to take the BCAA product with glutamine and antioxidants mentioned earlier, I take these two antioxidants along with plain BCAA powder and glycine.)
Do You Have Liver Spots / Age Spots?
With regard to anti-aging, Vitamin E and Selenium are also helpful for liver spots / age spots (those dark discolorations that tend to appear on the hands and other areas as we age).
What those spots actually are is a sign that toxins are building up in the skin cells as a result of damage by free-radicals. Essentially it’s a sign that the body needs some antioxidant help. And Vitamin E and Selenium, along with NAC, are particularly effective in this capacity.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin (a class of vitamins the body can store). This means you don’t need much and it also means you can get too much in your system if you overdo it.
As an antioxidant, Vitamin E inhibits the formation of free radicals (highly reactive substances in the body that cause damage to cells and DNA). It also supports immune and heart health.
As long as you don’t have a risk for heart disease, 100 IU softgels are a good place to start. Vitamin E also comes in 200 IU softgels if you find you need a little more help. (If you have a risk of heart disease, you may consider taking 400 IU, but of course speak to your physician first.)
Follow the directions on the bottle, which is usually taking one daily. After a while, you may find that you only need it once a week or a few times a week. Everyone’s body is different and needs different amounts, so listen to what your body tells you.
Note: Vitamin E is a blood thinner, so do not take it if you have a condition that requires you to avoid blood thinners or if you’re taking prescription blood thinners.
Selenium is trace mineral that enters food through the soil, however, modern farming practices have caused most soils to be selenium deficient. The only significant source of selenium is Brazil nuts (and you shouldn’t eat Brazil nuts if you’re taking selenium supplements or vice versa).
Selenium protects against the harmful effects of free radicals (highly reactive substances in the body that cause damage to cells and DNA). Selenium also supports heart, liver, brain, immune system, joint, prostate and pancreas health.
Start with 100 mcg daily, and just like with vitamin E, you may be able to reduce it to once a week or a few times a week. It also comes in 200 mcg if you find you need a higher dose.
Note: Selenium also supports thyroid function, so if you have thyroid issues or are taking thyroid medication, you may want to consult with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Let’s face it, when we’re passionate about an activity we often tend to give our all and do as much as we can. This means that as we “continue to progress in our years,” sore joints and muscles from overdoing it can be a little more common.
T Relief is a homeopathic pain relief cream that supports the temporary relief of minor joint, back and muscle pain due to over exertion.
It’s unscented and comes in 2 ounce and 4 ounce sizes, as well as being available in tablets. It comes in regular and extra strength options.
I've used T Relief for many years and always keep it on hand for times when I overdo it.
Many activities that we’re passionate about take place outside, and with outdoor activity comes sun exposure and bugs.
Reader Input Needed for Natural Sunscreens:
If you happen to forget your sunscreen or miss a spot when applying it and get too much sun, an excellent product for soothing sunburned skin is Aubrey Aloe Vera Face & Body Moisturizer.
Aubrey’s is an all-natural, liquid moisturizer that hydrates and soothes dry, rough or sun-stressed skin on contact. It’s also 98% organic. And keeping it in the refrigerator helps to provide instant relief on sunburned skin.
I've been using Aubrey's for about 10 years. And it can also be used as a very effective daily moisturizer, whether your skin is sun exposed or not. Plus it works nicely as an after-shaving moisturizer.
Mosquito Armor Lotion Bar is an all-natural bug repellent lotion made by a woman I met at a farmer’s market in Montana. Not only does the lotion have a nice, citrusy smell to it, but you can apply it as often as you need it. Plus it leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth.
She also makes a bug repellent soap in addition to a wide variety of other natural soaps for both men and women.
What I like about her soaps is that they’re milled. I have sensitive skin, so I’ve been a fan of milled soaps for many years because they’re long lasting and leave your skin feeling pampered instead of dry and harshly cleaned as with common, store bought soaps.
Just because we’ve become “more seasoned with time” doesn’t necessarily mean we have to slow down or give up staying active. Healthy aging is simply a matter of supplying the body with the key nutrients it needs to continue supporting physical activity and endurance. And although supplementation is no magic cure, when done smartly it can have many positive benefits.
Remember to be realistic with yourself as well. For instance, with the effects of the chronic fatigue syndrome that I’m recovering from, I may not be able to do the extreme hiking I once did, but with smart supplementation I'm able to enjoy easy to moderate hikes once a week. It’s what my body can handle right now, and that suits me just fine.
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