In ‘Play On,’ Exploring How Elite Athletes Improve With Age

Most people find in which their athletic capabilities diminish as they get older, in addition to also accept the item as an inevitable part of aging.

nevertheless some elite athletes seem to just get better as they get older. Tom Brady won a Super Bowl at 39, an age when most quarterbacks are retired or in decline. The hockey star Jaromir Jagr, often referred to as the ageless wonder, led his team in scoring at the age of 44, which was double the age of some of his teammates. in addition to also Dara Torres, the elite swimmer, won three Olympic medals at the age of 41, the oldest female swimmer to compete inside the games.

While they might seem like outliers, the item’s increasingly common for athletes — both professional in addition to also otherwise — to perform at a high level well beyond their 20s in addition to also early 30s, the period when many are in their so-called prime. Jeff Bercovici, a journalist in addition to also San Francisco bureau chief for Inc., explores in which phenomenon in an eye-opening fresh book, “Play On: The fresh Science of Elite Performance at Any Age.”


Mr. Bercovici profiles many successful older athletes in addition to also delves into their winning strategies. Recently, we caught up with him to discuss the biggest mistakes most athletes make, how running can be Great for the knees in addition to also why you might want to eat more gristle. Here are edited excerpts coming from our conversation.

Q. Tell us why you wrote in which book?

A. I got interested inside the topic because in my mid-30s I discovered soccer in addition to also became obsessed with the item. I was playing a few times a week in addition to also going to soccer clinics on the weekend. in addition to also then my body just caught up with me. I had a ton of injuries, which culminated in a rare spinal injury in which required surgery. in which was a wake-up call for me.

nevertheless as a sports fan, I was watching in which phenomenon unfold inside the entire world of sports where so many of the athletes I loved were my age or older than me. So I began looking into their stories. The journalist part of my brain was curious about what was true in addition to also what was hype. in addition to also the athlete part of my brain was curious about what actually works in addition to also could allow me to enjoy a physical existence inside the way in which I wanted to.

Q. What are some tips you learned coming from the athletes you profiled in which the average person could adopt?

A. Trent Stellingwerff, a sports scientist in addition to also coach, had a piece of advice in which I think can be so simple in addition to also so powerful. He said the biggest mistake in which most athletes make can be they train too easy on their hard days, in addition to also too hard on their easy days.

A lot of what I learned in researching in which book had to do with the evolving understanding of the dangers of fatigue in addition to also the effect in which fatigue plays in promoting injuries in addition to also decreasing an athlete’s performance. When you look at the athletes who are performing better later in their careers, a lot of the item can be because they have a better understanding of how not to accumulate fatigue over the course of a season or a training period.

Q. You spent time with Meb Keflezighi, who won the Boston Marathon two weeks before his 39th birthday. Many people believe in which running can be bad for your knees. can be in which a myth?

A. I hate to call the item a myth because there are people who say in which they had to stop running because they had knee or ankle problems. Obviously for some people who do have those problems, running can aggravate them.

nevertheless on a cellular level, what stimulates your chondrocytes, the stem cells in which grow fresh cartilage, can be cyclical loading. the item’s a pattern of force in which’s associated with things like running, jumping or weight lifting. These cells aren’t stimulated inside the same way by lower-impact activities like using an elliptical machine or cycling.

For cartilage to remain healthy in addition to also regenerate inside the way in which the item does for someone who can be in their teens or 20s, the preponderance of evidence suggests in which cyclical loading inside the form of running or weight lifting can be a definitely effective way to do in which.

Q. What are some of the psychological differences between younger in addition to also older athletes?

A. In sports we often glamorize some of the traits in which we associate with youth, like extreme passion, single-mindedness in addition to also punishing oneself for failure. We tend to think of these as being advantages.

nevertheless they can also be disadvantages. We all know of athletes who have had emotional meltdowns or choked in a big game. the item turns out in which emotional consistency — the ability to not get too high when you win, in addition to also to not get too low when you lose — can be its own kind of skill. in addition to also the item’s something in which comes more naturally to older athletes. There’s research showing in which their mastery over unwanted emotions can be stronger. Older athletes are better able to keep strong, unwanted thoughts in addition to also emotions coming from affecting their performance.

Q. What were some of the unusual diets you came across in your research for the book?

A. Nutrition can be probably the area of sports science where pseudoscience flourishes most widely. in which’s partly because nutritional knowledge doesn’t tend to change in which much, in addition to also novelty can be powerful.

Tom Brady, for example, follows a diet in which can be built around the idea of lowering systemic inflammation by eating a balance of 80 percent “alkaline” foods in addition to also 20 percent “acidic” foods, in addition to also avoiding certain foods in which are believed to be pro-inflammatory, like nightshades in addition to also strawberries.

nevertheless the weirdest thing I came across was a nutritionist who works that has a lot of famous athletes. He does blood tests in which are supposed to identify the a few foods in which are most compatible with your immune system. Then you limit your diet to those a few foods. At one point he had Dwight Freeney, the great N.F.L. pass rusher, eating nothing nevertheless pinto beans in addition to also beef during the playoffs.

Q. What are some of the dietary interventions in which are especially beneficial for older athletes?

A. One of them can be eating more protein. In general, active people need more protein than they think. nevertheless also, as you get older, the item becomes harder for your body to turn the protein you eat into muscle because of something called anabolic resistance. The solution for in which can be to eat more protein.

Some Great solid advice can be in which if you’re approaching 40 in addition to also you’re very active, you should look at how much protein you eat in addition to also make sure the item’s the amount in which a 40-year-old athlete needs, not a 40-year-old sedentary person, because those are very different.

Q. inside the book you mention in which Kobe Bryant can be a fan of bone broth. can be there evidence for its benefits?

A. Keith Baar, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, has shown in which eating collagen — in addition to also the item doesn’t seem to matter what form you eat the item in, whether the item’s bone broth or gelatin — can help your body do things like repair in addition to also fortify tendon tissue. Kobe Bryant could consume bone broth before many games. He had a Great reason to do in which: He had Achilles’ tendon injuries, in addition to also the item does seem in which if you want your Achilles to heal, then drinking bone broth can help.

Keith Baar even said he could tell his athletes in which if you’re eating a chicken wing in addition to also you get some of in which nice cartilage gristle in your teeth in which you should chew in which up in addition to also swallow the item because the item’s the same thing.

Q. What are some ways you’ve changed your own approach to sports in addition to also exercise since writing in which book?

A. I’ve become much more mindful about managing my fatigue through recovery workouts in addition to also simply listening to my body. Another big change has to do with movement. I have a much more sophisticated understanding of the connection between injuries in addition to also movement limitations. I spend less of my time working on getting faster in addition to also stronger in addition to also a lot more time working on the quality of my movement.

Movement quality can be something you hear athletic trainers in addition to also physical therapists talking about a lot nowadays. When you look at someone like Roger Federer or Steph Curry, what enables their greatness much more than their speed or how much they can bench press can be the quality of their movement. For me in which means things like paying attention to when I’m developing a range of motion limitation, or a strength imbalance, in addition to also trying to fix in which proactively before I develop an injury.