Eight Age Defying Strategies: How to Stay at the Top of your Game

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I’ve watched and worked alongside hundreds of elite athletes and thousands of active folks who have defied the odds of aging, staying mentally sharp with a giddy-up in their step decade after decade. What are their secrets? In short: train like you mean it and eat like a Bird…Sue Bird, that is. 

If you don’t know who Sue Bird is, well, I feel sorry for you for having so far missed enjoying one of the greatest team athletes of all time! But I forgive you because women’s basketball is only just beginning to gain traction in the national media. Let me bring you up to speed. 

Sue Bird is a 17-year legend, one of the WNBA Greatest of All Time point guards, three-time WNBA national champion with the Seattle Storm (including the just minted 2018 championship), eleven WNBA All-Star Teams, eight All-WNBA Teams, four-time Team USA Gold Medal Olympian, three FIBA world championships and four EuroLeague championships, and even more. 

According to Percy Allen from the Seattle Times “She turns 38 next month after one of her best years in which she averaged 10.1 points and 7.1 assists, a career high and second best in the WNBA, while playing the fewest minutes (26.6) of her career. Bird is redefining what it means to grow old in the WNBA.”

In other words, Sue Bird has not lost a step in 17 years! How is this possible when the play is at world-class levels and the top WNBA players commit to year-round play, heading to overseas leagues the day the WNBA season ends? There is no time for recovery between their WNBA and overseas seasons, year in and year out. 

In redefining what it means to grow old in the WNBA, or anywhere, we all need to follow the model that Sue Bird has strategically developed. As her High-Performance Nutrition® coach, I can share some of her strategies with you here, and even more in my latest book, The New Power Eating ( )

  1. I did say at the outset that you need to train like you mean it, and I’m not kidding. As we get older, many of us slow down for all sorts of reasons. The fact is that unless you can’t get out of bed you can train. Actually, you can even train in bed…that’s how Pilates began. If you have certain limitations, then you train around them. Get a good training guide or personal trainer that can keep you safe yet help you work hard. Mix up your exercise regimen to include resistance training, aerobic training, and a combination of balance and flexibility.

A primary key to longevity and good health is maintaining muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have the greater your metabolic rate in every cell in your body. The slower your metabolic rate, the faster you age, and the closer you become to losing your physical and mental capabilities. So rather than slowing down, train as hard as possible. Challenge yourself athletically. That doesn’t mean that you should become an athlete, but you should train yourself with that kind of mindset. Improvement only comes by challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid of sweat or fatigue. That’s the anti-aging factor. If you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backward. 

  1. In order to train like you mean it, you need to eat like an athlete. Oftentimes even athletes are not fueling their bodies for optimal performance. Here’s Sue Bird’s story from The New Power Eating ( ).

Sue was an incredible client and very diligent. She kept a 10-day diet record

so that we could get a very good snapshot of her overall food intake. It revealed

that she was underfueling her body 1,000 to 1,500 calories a day, depending

on the day’s training protocol. She was taking in only about 100 calories above

her resting metabolic rate, with a very slight increase on game days. Few things

would tear her body down faster than that large an energy deficit.

To begin, I added 170 grams of carbohydrate, 20 grams of fat, and 50 grams

of protein. She periodized her carbohydrate intake, as can all my clients, by

adjusting her carbohydrate supplementation around training. High-intensity

training days and game days got more carbohydrate, including carbohydrate

supplementation before, during, and after training. Rest days didn’t require

carbohydrate supplementation. Easy!

Well, try telling an elite-caliber athlete that she needs to eat at least another

1,000 calories a day! But Sue was a model client. We took it in steps to get

her mind and body used to the extra food, but the minute she saw, and felt, the

results, she was all in. And despite the fact that Sue had always been very fit,

her extra ripped abs were a nice added benefit!

Sue has put her own stamp on her food choices, but sticks with the Power

Eating program template that we designed 3 years ago. At first, she was skeptical

of all the carbohydrate supplementation around training, but today she has

added more Vitargo for half-time refueling and encourages her teammates to

use it as well. And that talk about retirement? No way! Sue is still fully in the

game, and I get to watch her championship play all season as the Floor General of the Seattle Storm.

  1. You might not need an extra 1,000 calories a day but eating optimal amounts of carbohydrate, protein and high-performance fat so that your body can continue to build itself up rather than tear itself down is important to feel strong and support your anti-inflammatory immune system, another anti-aging secret. Every meal deserves vegetables and a whole grain or starchy vegetable. Protein rich foods from the plant and/or animal kingdoms are also essential at each meal. A serving of at least 4 ounces or the equivalent of 25-30 grams of protein per meal is ideal. If you can eat dairy, add that in a couple times a day, as well. Also include at least a serving of plant-based fats from seeds, nuts, and avocados. 
  2. Fuel your training to maximize your results. This is where timing becomes critical. It was hard for Sue, and it is hard for most people to eat enough to nourish and fuel your body fully yet still feel empty enough to train. A full stomach does not promote challenging exercise. In fact, you’re likely to either take your workout pretty slowly or heave your last meal on the side of the road. Neither of these are good options. 

A much better option is to use sports fuels engineered for use before, during and after exercise. If you think that fasting before training or not eating afterward is the smartest approach to losing fat and sculpting your body, you’re wrong. By fueling your body beforehand, you maximize your training effect and caloric burn. Refueling after exercise enhances not only your recovery, but also the calories that you burn to fully recover. There is no advantage to underfueling training and you’ll love the way you look and feel when you begin to fully fuel your body to train hard and recover. 

The best sports fuel choice that I know, and that fuels Sue Bird, is Vitargo ( ). Experiment with how much you need and your timing. You will always improve your high intensity training days by using Vitargo pre-exercise. You may have lower intensity shorter training sessions that don’t require Vitargo, but if you would otherwise enter the training session fasting then a little bit of Vitargo goes a long way to improving your results. If you like to do long distance exercise, then sipping on Vitargo along the way will keep you feeling strong and thinking clearly. Vitargo is the best fuel for muscle fuel recovery. If you train hard every day you will get better gains by combining Vitargo with some protein post-workout. 

  1. A busy athlete like Sue Bird is focused on her nutrition, but her training and lifestyle typically creates hours between eating times. Meals and snacks have time to fully digest and absorb into the body for utilization, before eating again. Research studies are beginning to show that constant eating, or grazing, may not be as healthy for our systems, especially our digestive system, as allowing more time between eating. This is also true for our overnight period of fasting. There may be some added health value to going 10-12 hours without eating overnight on a regular basis. 
  2. Hydration is enormously important to the health of every cell in your body and brain. Athletes that monitor their hydration with attention to a fluid plan feel better and play better throughout their careers and beyond. The same is true for you. Create a fluid plan just like you think about having a food plan. When, what and how are you going to drink throughout a day? 
  3. Use a few key nutritional supplements to cover what you know you are not eating. A pure, high quality, science-based multivitamin-mineral supplement is a good start, but not enough. I include fish oil, vitamin D, and calcium for women, as my non-negotiable supplements. In addition, I usually include probiotics and flaxseed meal for gut health, and 3-5 grams of creatine for brain health as standard recommendations. Of course there are more customized supplemental regimes when I work individually, and I depend on USANA Health Sciences, Inc. ( as my major source for foundational health supplements. 
  4. You’ve got to have a plan. Flying by the seat of your pants doesn’t work well for financial planning, and it certainly doesn’t work for lifestyle planning. And just like financial planning, it’s never too late to create a plan for exercise and nutrition. Then once you have a plan, you have to plan to follow it. 

Don’t let the totality of the changes become an obstacle. Recall the Sue Bird strategy of taking the changes in steps. Break your plan down to achievable, daily goals. Those daily successes add up to big accomplishments. Before you know it you’ll feel better than ever and be at the top of your game!


Dr. Susan Kleiner is a titan in sports nutrition. Her seminal research on male and female bodybuilders launched the study of the nutritional needs of muscle building, power and strength. Her expertise and research has expanded to hydration, and she is passionate about the nutritional needs of athletic women and girls. She is the founder and owner of the internationally recognized consulting firm, High Performance Nutrition, LLC, and has recently become Director of Science and Communication for Vitargo Global Sciences, Inc. With one foot in the academic world and one in the business world, she authored the best-selling legacy book Power Eating® soon to be published in its fifth edition, The Good Mood Diet, five other popular books, numerous academic chapters and peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, as well as featured columns in all forms of media. Dr. Sue has consulted with professional athletes and teams, Olympians and elite athletes in countless sports. She is currently the High Performance Nutritionist for the Seattle Storm (WNBA) and formerly for the Seattle Reign FC (WNSL), the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Supersonics, the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Browns. She is co-founder and fellow of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, a member of The American College of Sports Medicine and The National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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