I have noticed a lot of athletes hit their prime when they are in their 20s and that by the time they reach their 30s they are past it and start to decline. Great athletes tend to prolong their careers by adjusting their game strategy, but even so they can't do the things they used to do when they were younger. Examples of this are abundant in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, football, etc.

Why do athletes suddenly have such a drop off in performance? What happens to their bodies, muscles, etc that prevents them from doing what they once did? Can someone explain the biological/physiological reason for this?

  • $\begingroup$ A lot of sports cause damage to the body, compare the average retirement age of gymnasts and footballers to that of golfers and cyclists $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Jun 1 '15 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ That is a great point. I never thought of it like that. $\endgroup$ Jun 1 '15 at 8:28

The decline in athletic performance is a result of senescence; the question then becomes "why do we senescence?"

A number of questions on this site have addressed this. These include Why does evolution not make our life longer?, Why do we age?, and any number of others that one can pull up with a search for senescence. It is key to distinguish between proximate (how, physiologically ) and ultimate (why, evolutionarily) explanations. It's not entirely clear to me from your question which of the two you are asking.

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    $\begingroup$ I am asking about the physiological mechanisms. And I don't think simply saying they are getting old is succifient. By any normal person's standards, they can still compete at an exceptional level. $\endgroup$ May 31 '15 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ @StanShunpike Yeah, but normal people also drop off the same way. By your mid- to late-twenties, your body is basically finished getting better simply through development and now only gets worse. $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    May 31 '15 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ But why physically as opposed to mentally? Why doesn't the mind drop off the sane way? $\endgroup$ May 31 '15 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ Who says it doesn't? We can keep learning of course but there's solid evidence that brain development has largely wrapped up by our mid- or late-twenties. $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    Jun 1 '15 at 17:13

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