Is 40 the New 20 for Pro Athletes?
Williams, Jordan, James, Brady. They’re among a growing class of the superstar athletes delivering career-best performances well past what's been considered peak age for their sports. As this phenomenon becomes more common, it begs the questions how and why now? How are experience and maturity winning out over inevitable, natural physical decline? Athletes in the 30s and 40s — Kevin Love, basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyle Korver, ball player for the Utah Jazz, and Hilaree Nelson, professional ski mountaineer, share details about the training and lifestyle changes that are keeping them as strong as their younger selves.
Kyle Korver’s professional basketball career has evolved. When he entered the NBA 16 years ago, he remembers spending hours in the gym shooting baskets. “But then, once you’ve developed that love and appreciation and you want to keep on going, you have to get smarter,” he says. Technology has helped him train more wisely.
NBA all-star Kevin Love agrees technology and science have led to more targeted training for professional athletes. Training is now customized for what position you hold on a team. As the power forward/center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love trains differently than Korver who’s a guard/forward. “I have to play powerful. I have to be able to play in the pain. I have to be able to hold guys off.” Outside of the gym, Love incorporates meditation, massage, and sleep into his training plan.
Hilaree Nelson, professional ski mountaineer, struggles with motivation now that she’s in her 40s. She’s been on four dozen expeditions, including a first ski descent of the world’s fourth highest peak, Lhotse. These trips require lots of planning, logistics, and often, uncomfortable situations. “[The idea of] spending night after night in a tent in the snow is not that sweet anymore.” To keep her passion alive, she says she works to lighten the mood.
Big IdeaI like to add a little bit of humor into what I do and make it fun and realize that I love it, and find the right people to train with. That gives me the motivation, and that keeps me going.Hilaree Nelson
Shortly into his professional basketball career, Kevin Love knew he had to make a change. When he entered the NBA, he weighed too much — 280 pounds. ”I was the guy who had the appetite of a kid at an unchaperoned birthday party,” he says jokingly. But the weight was no joke. NBA games were more frequent and the players more aggressive than in college. “I knew very quickly that my body wasn’t going to hold up over time unless I made a change.”
Before mountaineer Hilaree Nelson heads out on an expedition, she intentionally puts on weight. “I have to eat a lot of protein and carbohydrates,” she says. At altitudes of 20,000-plus above sea level she says she burns 6,000 calories a day doing nothing. An added challenge is that altitude causes a loss of appetite. “It’s a race against time in maintaining your physical strength and finishing your climbing within this window before you’re emaciated.”
Forget that cheeseburger: you’re less hungry at higher altitudes
When it comes to a training routine, basketball player Kyle Korver says he tries to find balance. “I think one of the biggest challenges is finding energy. Basketball takes a lot of energy and then I have to go home and be a dad.” Korver, who’s the father to three children under six years old, says finding time for wrestling, tickling, and playing ball is key. “So, I have game day naps and I gotta try and be in bed by a certain time. On the road is where I do my massages because it’s not taking away time from my family....You still gotta live,” he says.