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May 30, 2023

Play the Endurance Game: Nutrition for Agile Aging

By Brandi Givens, RD

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While pickleball is a growing sport among all age brackets, it’s become the key to keeping many people feeling youthful. It’s a healthy addiction, beckoning players toward physical activity when they may have otherwise been couch surfing. Pickleball has even become an incentive for athletes to take better care of themselves, so they can participate for years to come.


It’s no surprise that nutrition is a major component to healthy aging. It’s not just for older adults. The earlier in life you start eating well, the longer you may be able to play our wonderful sport. Here are a few things to consider if you want to stay in the game.


Maintain Muscle Mass


Whether you are a man or woman, robust muscle mass is important for avoiding injury on the court. Higher muscle mass can also support normal blood sugar regulation and generate faster metabolism, keeping you lighter on your feet.


While strength training is critical to building and maintaining your tone, a diet with plenty of protein is also necessary. But how much is enough? There are endless factors that influence daily nutrient needs, but the following chart provides a basic guideline for protein.

Source: Karpinkski, Christine. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. 2017, Print.

That means that a 55-year-old person who weighs 170 lbs. (77kg) would need about 92 grams of protein each day. Great sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy beverage, and tofu.


Build Bone


Bone density can decline over time. Having brittle bones could be the difference between a fall resulting in a slow-healing fracture or hopping back up to continue the rally.


Two nutrients that contribute to bone strength are calcium and vitamin D. Calcium complexes form the structure of bones, and vitamin D is necessary for absorbing calcium into the body.


Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy, fortified orange juice, bok choy, kale, beans, broccoli, canned salmon or sardines, sesame seeds, chia seeds, and almonds. Sources of vitamin D include exposure to sunshine, fortified dairy, soy products, orange juice, egg yolks, UV-treated mushrooms, and canned fish.


Vision Vitality


Perhaps the most annoying thing about aging is loss of vision. Not only can you lose track of that yellow ball, but you may anger your opponents by making poor line calls.


There are foods out there that can hinder age-related sight problems. Important nutrients include:

  • Vitamin A. People low in this nutrient have trouble seeing well in low-light conditions. Sources include leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, mango, and red peppers.

  • Vitamins C and E. These antioxidants protect the eyes from damaging free radicals. Sources of vitamin C include strawberries, red peppers, citrus fruit, broccoli, and kiwifruit. Sources of vitamin E include avocados, vegetable oils, almonds, and sunflower seeds.

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin. The risk of developing age-related chronic eye diseases is lowered with adequate amounts of these two nutrients. Sources include dark leafy greens, broccoli, persimmons, corn, and tangerines.

  • Zinc. This mineral teams with vitamin A to create melanin, a protective eye pigment. Sources of zinc include meat, fish, oysters, eggs, cashews, and pumpkin seeds.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. This healthy fat reduces inflammation in the body including the eyes. Sources of omega-3 fats include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and canola oil.


Heart Health


As pickleball players, we’re contributing to our longevity with exercise on the court that increases heart rate. We can also contribute by paying attention to what we’re eating.


Studies continue to show that choosing a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and healthy oils like olive and canola is a great way to maintain cardiovascular health. Avoiding too much sodium, alcohol, saturated fats, and trans fats can also help keep your ticker strong. This eating style supports the heart because it’s high in the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber that rally together to promote normal blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and gut microbiome.


If your life goals include spending your golden years winning gold on the pickleball court, it’s never too early to support whole body health by eating well. See you on the courts, pickleball friends!  •


Hearty Avocado Toast

This tasty dish can be enjoyed any time of the day, and offers nutrients like vitamins C, D, and E, healthy oils, and fiber.


1 ripe avocado

5 grape tomatoes, chopped

Squeeze of lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pieces whole wheat toast

2 eggs, poached or fried in canola oil


Cut avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop insides into a bowl and lightly mash, leaving it chunky. Gently fold in tomatoes, lemon juice, and seasonings. Divide mixture onto toast pieces. Top each with an egg. Enjoy!

Brandi Givens has been a registered dietitian since 2010. Questions or comments can be posted to her blog at

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