Any serious bicyclist knows, nutritional choices can make or break a ride.

According to a University of Maine professor, those nutritional needs change as people age, especially after age 50.

“Riding places a lot of demands on your body, and as you get older and your body starts breaking down here and there, it’s especially important to stay on top of the nutrition you need to support it and keep it strong and healthy,” Dr. Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine and president of the Institute of Food Technologies, said in an article appearing online in Bicycling Magazine. “These foods and nutrients, as part of a balanced healthy diet, can help.”

After cyclists turn 50, according to Camire, they need higher levels of certain nutrients to maintain optimal muscle function at the same time their bodies don’t absorb those nutrients as efficiently as it used to.

Among those, she said, are omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon or herring; antioxidants found in fresh fruit such as blueberries; protein from dairy, fish, meat, poultry or plant-based; vitamin D, available in dairy or supplements; and probiotics found in live active yeast culture yogurts.

“It’s so important for people to stay active,” Camire said from her Orono campus office last week. “I’m going on 59, and my partner is 66. We stay quite active doing things like kayaking.”

Active people often don’t think about their nutritional needs changing over time, she said, but there is no getting around it.

“We lose muscle mass every year after we turn 40,” she said. “That is why it is so critical to keep exercising and keep moving.”

At 66, Cliff Krolick, who operates his Back Country Excursions mountain bike touring company out of Parsonsfield, is a longtime cyclist and believer in never slowing down.

“I started riding [bicycles] when I was a little kid and then stopped for a while,” Krolick said. “I got my first mountain bike when I was 37, and these days I ride pretty much six months out of the year, three times a week minimum from May to October.”

He says he’s placed a priority on eating healthy foods since he was in his 20s. He gardens, growing his own foods in the warm months, and buys organic foods when gardening season is over. “I think that really helps maintain my active lifestyle,” said Krolick, who started his mountain bike touring business 30 years ago.

Even though he is “slowing down a bit,” he finds younger riders often have a tough time keeping up with him.

“It’s always a question of how much of this is genetics and how much is diet,” he said. “But I think it also has a lot to do with how active you were in life before turning 50 or 60. In my case, I’ve been pretty physical since my mid-20s. Sitting down is just not part of my regime.”

For Bob Lombardo, 66, of Orono, cycling is a way of life. He owns 20 bikes, and cycles in spring and summer. As the years roll on, he said he’s noticed some changes with new aches and pains from riding, especially in his back and wrists.

“Getting out of bed in the morning, I’m starting to feel like I’m 66,” he said. “But I’m still in denial about that.”

But he’s not letting that stop him from cycling.

“You really can ride bikes at any age,” he said. “I was in Sweden in the winter and saw theses elderly ladies riding bikes on snowy streets, and they were definitely a lot older than me.”

Lombardo said he sticks to a vegetarian diet and has since the late 1960s. He also prefers real food over processed energy snacks or gels and often packs a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or fresh fruit for longer rides.

“For the most part, it’s not a high protein diet, but I do get the protein I need from tofu, beans, dairy and eggs,” he said. “I’m also a believer in carbohydrates, especially on the nights before I do a long ride the next day.”

The bottom line for anyone wanting to stay active to 50 and beyond, Camire said, is to make sure to get the nutrients you need to stay comfortable and alert.

“Omega-3s are good for elevating your mood and [so] are anti-inflammatories,” she said. “So if you are prone to soreness, having [omega-3s] built up in your bloodstream will help reduce the need for [anti-inflammatory] drugs.”

Staying active, Camire said, is the key.

“Find what you enjoy,” she said. “And just do it.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.