My nutritional needs in my early 60s are vastly different from when I was young or middle age, and they’ll most likely continue evolving as my body continues to change. Depending on where you currently stand in the ages of man, your needs will be different from years past and the years that lie ahead of you.
But determining your nutritional needs is a mix of art and science. We all share the same basic nutritional requirements for staying alive, but the uniqueness of our individual genetics, biochemistry, and age influences the amounts and kinds of specific nutrients we require.
I’ve divided the ages of man into three roughly 20-year periods, covering young, middle age, and older men. And I’ve focused on specific health issues and research-based supplements that can provide an edge in maintaining health. There will inevitably be some overlap because some health issues concern men at any age.
Young Men: Ages 21-39
When we’re young, we feel invincible. We’re usually at the peak of our physical and cognitive abilities, and thoughts of disease impacting our lives are often out of sight and out of mind. Still, there are important issues to be addressed. Your twenties are the ideal time to build bone and muscle so you have strong reserves when you eventually face age-related declines in both tissues. By the time you reach your thirties, you may be thinking about starting a family, yet fertility problems are common.
Build Muscle. Exercise—working with weights, running, cycling, or rowing—is essential for building muscle. But muscle consists mostly of protein, and specific amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are essential for making muscle. Chief among these are the “branched chain” aminos (BCAAs), consisting of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Of these, leucine (3-6 grams/day) is the most important because it helps convert protein to muscle.[i] Eating a lot of veggies helps too, because they help maintain a slightly alkaline pH in the body, preventing the breakdown of muscle.
Healing Exercise Injuries. The Danish Olympic team led the way with natural ways to heal inflammatory overuse injuries. Soren Mavrogenis, formerly the physical therapist for the team, used to recommend analgesic drugs to ease pain, but the athletes had to stop working out while healing. Mavrogenis then began recommending omega-3 fish oils (700 mg/day) and gamma-linolenic acid (700 mg/day), along with small amounts of antioxidants. Typically, injuries healed in two to four weeks, and the Olympians were able to continue exercising while healing. He found that the same regimen also helped weekend warriors who injured themselves. [ii] [iii]
Improve Fertility. An estimated 20 percent of American couples are infertile, and the problem often rests with men, not women. Sperm cells are surrounded by delicate membranes consisting of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which hints at their nutritional needs. Omega-3 fish oils (1 gram/day) can help reinforce the membranes of sperm and all other cells in the body. However, antioxidants are needed to prevent free radical damage to both omega-3s and sperm.[iv] [v] [vi] Chief among these antioxidants are vitamin E (400 IU/day), vitamin C (1,000 mg/day), and selenium (200 mcg/day). Still other studies have shown that a combination of L-carnitine and acetyl-L-carnitine—two forms of the same nutrient—improve sperm motility.[vii] [viii]
Prevent Diabetes. Younger men have likely grown up in a sea of fast food and other types of junk food, which increases their risk of prediabetes and type-2 diabetes. Adopting healthier eating habits can significantly reduce that risk, but several supplements can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Among them are vitamin D (4,000 IU/day), silymarin (200 mg/day), chromium (400 mcg/day), and biotin (2,000 mcg/day).
Boost Energy. The source of your energy comes from tiny structures called mitochondria, found in every cell of your body. These mitochondria burn glucose and fat to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical form of energy in the body. Perhaps not surprisingly, mitochondria are concentrated in muscle cells. Several nutrients function as the “gears” that keep this biological machinery moving. They include vitamin-like coenzyme Q10 (50-200 mg/day), which was the basis of the 1978 Nobel Prize in chemistry; L-carnitine (1,000-2,000 mg/day); and alpha-lipoic acid (100-200 mg/day).
Middle Age Men: Ages 40-59
A man’s forties and fifties can be decades of contradictions. Men often are at the peak of their careers and family lives, but their bodies start showing some of the unmistakable signs of aging. Some medical issues may appear—elevated blood pressure or urinary problems related to prostate enlargement are but two examples. At the same time, middle age is also an opportunity to make a concerted effort to restore or reinforce one’s health.
Protect the Heart. Cardiovascular diseases—heart attack and stroke—are still the leading cause of death among men. Early in 2013, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that eating a Mediterranean diet led to a 30 percent reduction in cardiovascular diseases.[ix] The diet is rich in healthy anti-inflammatory fats—from fish and olive oil—and relatively low in processed and junk foods. The omega-3 fish oils have multiple cardiovascular benefits—they help maintain heart rhythm, are mild blood thinners, and can lower triglycerides (a type of fat linked to heart disease).[x] [xi] Other heart-healthy nutrients include beta-sitosterol (2-4 grams/day), a plant extract known for its cholesterol-lowering ability; B-complex vitamins, particularly folic acid (400-800 mcg/day), which lowers levels of homocysteine, a substance that damages blood vessels; and magnesium (200-300 mg/day), a mineral that can lower blood pressure and help prevent strokes.[xii]
Maintain Erectile Function. While “stage fright” affects some men in new relationships, persistent erectile dysfunction is often a sign of cardiovascular disease. Prescription drugs don’t treat the underlying problem, but good nutrition and two supplements can help. The amino acid arginine (2,000 mg/day) is the precursor to nitric oxide, a compound that regulates the flexibility of blood vessels—and getting an erection is all about blood flow.[xiii] The benefits may be enhanced by combining arginine with Pycnogenol® (50-100 mg/day), a plant-derived antioxidant.[xiv]
Prevent Prostate Enlargement. By age 50, most men start experiencing some of the signs of benign prostate enlargement, usually getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. The antioxidant lycopene (10-15 mg/day), found in tomatoes, can slow the increase in prostate size and also lower levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a marker of prostate cancer risk.[xv] Two herbs, saw palmetto (200-300 mg/day) and stinging nettles (100-200 mg/day), along with cranberry supplements (400 mg/day), can help as well. [xvi] [xvii] [xviii] [xix] [xx]
Deal with Depression. Many men suffer through a mid-life crisis, especially if they fail to achieve their life goals and feel trapped at work or home. Real-life events impact brain chemistry, sometimes leading to feelings of depression. The safest way to enhance mood is with natural substances. Try one (or a combination) of these: omega-3 fish oils (3,000 mg/day), high-potency B-complex (50 mg of the major Bs daily), and St. John’s wort (300 mg/3xday). [Editor’s note: Depression is a serious illness. Please talk with your doctor if you think you have depression.]
Senior Life: Age 60+
Boomers might like to believe that “60 is the new 40”—and to deny the inevitability of aging—but the truth is that 60 is still 60. As hard as we might have exercised, we’ve lost substantial muscle by this time in life. Our vision isn’t quite the same, and odds are that we have a few aches and pains. After age 60, guys have to work extra hard to resist the ravages of aging.
Maintain Muscle. Just as amino acids can help young athletes, they can provide significant benefits to seniors, especially in increasing muscle mass. While L-leucine (3-6 grams/day) appears to be the most important, other amino acid supplements have also been shown to boost muscle mass. They include beta-alanine (2,400 mg/day), L-ornithine (2 grams/day), and multi-amino acid supplements (8 grams/day) that provide a blend of eight or nine amino acids.[xxi] [xxii] [xxiii]
Sharpen the Brain. Half the brain consists of fat, and it’s essential that you emphasize healthy fats to maintain your smarts. Two dietary phospholipids, phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylcholine, get incorporated into the fatty membranes of brain cells, where they enhance cell-to-cell communication—that is, the basis of thinking and memory. Some research suggests they might slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. [xxiv] [xxv] [xxvi] [xxvii] [xxviii] Once again, the omega-3s (1,000-3,000 mg/day) can help people with depression and many other mood issues.[xxix] [xxx] [xxxi] [xxxii] [xxxiii] [xxxiv] Supplements of DHA, one of the key omega-3s, can boost learning and memory (300-500 mg/day).[xxxv]
Ease Aches and Pains. Several supplements can ease age-related aches and pains, including arthritis. Fish oils (1,000-3,000 mg/day), glucosamine (1,200 mg/day), and chondroitin (1,200 mg/day) can help in osteoarthritis, and gamma-linolenic acid (1,500 mg/day) has been shown to benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis.[xxxvi] [xxxvii] [xxxviii] In addition, curcumin, an extract of turmeric root, has potent anti-inflammatory properties and can be of benefit for people with rheumatoid arthritis.[xxxix]
Improve Vision. If you’re near- or farsighted, supplements won’t help. However, some supplements can improve night vision, reduce glare, and improve visual acuity—all common problems among seniors. Night blindness is a classic sign of vitamin A (10,000 IU/day) deficiency. Lutein (6-10 mg/day) and zeaxanthin (1 mg/day) are carotenoids found in high concentrations in the macular region of the eye, the part of the retina that is responsible for visual acuity, or clearness. These two antioxidants are believed to help filter out damaging blue light and UV light and prevent oxidative damage to the macula and retina. Both have been associated with a reduced risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Bilberry (120-240 mg/day) has also shown to promote the health of corneal epithelial cells, the cells that provide protection to the cornea, and to have a neuroprotective effect on the retina, in part through its antioxidant effect.
A Word on Diet
In terms of diet, it’s now clear that two diets provide the greatest health benefits: a protein-centered, low-processed-carbohydrate diet and a Mediterranean-style diet. Both will reduce your risk of overweight, diabetes, heart disease, and many other health problems. Such diets are nutrient dense, rich in quality protein and vegetables, while low in processed sugars and other types of refined carbohydrates.
Each stage of a man’s life involves health challenges, and it’s difficult to predict the exact types of issues you will face. That’s why taking a general approach to prevention, based on healthy lifestyle and eating habits and smart supplementation, is so important. But when faced with specific health problems, there are many proven nutritional supplements that can complement more conventional treatments.
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