Do you know the importance of calcium for athletes? It’s a necessary nutrient for your performance and health, but do you know why?
Athletes need calcium for making and keeping your bones strong and bone formation. You also rely on calcium for your muscles to work, your nerves to send signals, and your hormones to stay balanced.
In this post, I’ll explain the importance of calcium for athletes, how much you need, and how to get enough from your food, and from supplements if needed.
Benefits of calcium for athletes
- Builds and maintains strong bones and teeth
- Supports muscle contraction and relaxation (heart and muscles)
- Helps nerves send signals to the muscles
- Regulates fluids and electrolytes in the body
- Activates enzymes and hormones involved in energy metabolism
- Helps blood clotting
- Protects against some cancers and diabetes (1)
Calcium and bone health
Calcium is the most common mineral in your body, and most of it is stored in your bones and teeth.(2) Calcium helps to make the hard part of your bones, and also helps to change (or remodel) your bone tissue.
Your bone tissue remodels to fix small damage caused by physical stress, such as exercise, and for adjusting to different amounts of weight or pressure.
If you participate in sports that involve a lot of impact or weight, such as running, jumping, or lifting, you’ll likely have stronger bones than those who don’t exercise. This is because bones are put under physical stress actually get stronger.
However, this also means that athletes are at risk for losing more bone and break more bones if you don’t get enough calcium to support your changing bone tissue.
There are some things that can increase the risk of losing bone and breaking bones in athletes, such as not eating enough, having hormone problems, not getting enough vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K.
Therefore, it is very important for athletes to make sure they get enough calcium to protect their bone health and prevent injuries.
And because peak bone formation happens up until the age of 25-30 years old, adolescent you should eat calcium rich foods to meet calcium needs.
Importance of calcium for athletes-muscle, nerves and fluids
Calcium makes your muscles move (or contract) and relax, two things that are very important for athletic performance including strength, power, speed, endurance, and coordination.
Another role for calcium is sending nerve signals from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, and helping send signals between the nerve and the muscle.
Without enough calcium, the impact on nerve and muscle function leads to less strength, power, speed, endurance, and coordination.
Additionally, calcium helps to keep the balance of fluids and minerals in the body, which affects blood pressure, heart rate, and hydration.
Calcium also helps to turn on enzymes and hormones use energy, such as turning sugar into stored energy in the muscles and liver.
How much calcium do athletes need?
The recommended amount of daily calcium needs for adults is 1,000 mg per day, and 1,300 mg per day for teenagers aged 9–18 years. (3)
However, some experts suggest that athletes may need more calcium than the general population, because they lose more bone, sweat more, and pee more. (4)
In fact, research shows that some athletes should aim for 1,500-2000 mg of per day for especially if they have low bone mass.
Importance of calcium in athlete’s diets
The best way to get enough calcium is to eat a balanced diet that includes different varieties of calcium rich foods, such as dairy products, plant milks with added calcium, tofu, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and canned fish with bones.
Dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables are good sources of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K, which are all important for bone health.
Calcium helps to build and maintain the hard structure of the bones, vitamin D helps to absorb calcium from the food, magnesium and phosphorus help to form the mineral part of the bones, and vitamin K helps to activate the proteins that bind calcium to the bones.
Eating a balanced diet that includes these foods can help to prevent bone loss and fractures, especially for athletes who have higher bone turnover and stress.
The table below shows some examples of foods that have calcium and how much calcium they have. Also, head over to our post on highest calcium foods for even more ideas.
|Food||Serving size||Calcium (mg)|
|Soy milk with added calcium||1 cup||300|
|Almond milk with added calcium||1 cup||300|
|Orange juice with added calcium||1 cup||300|
|Tofu (made with calcium sulfate)||1/2 cup||250|
|Kale||1 cup cooked||180|
|Broccoli||1 cup cooked||60|
|Sesame seeds||1/4 cup||350|
|Chia seeds||1/4 cup||300|
|Sardines (with bones)||3 oz||325|
|Salmon (with bones)||3 oz||180|
However, some things can affect how much calcium you get from food. Minerals such as vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus help calcium absorption in your body. But oxalates, phytates, and tannins, can stop calcium absorption.
Therefore, it is important to eat different kinds of foods that give not only calcium, but also other nutrients that help your bones.
Supplements for importance of calcium for athletes
In most cases, athletes can meet their calcium needs from foods. However, some may benefit from taking calcium supplements, especially if you don’t eat enough or are a heavy sweater.
But calcium supplements should not be used instead of a balanced diet.
If you decide to take calcium supplements, it is good to talk to your doctor or sports registered dietitian nutritionist first. It’s also important to choose a good brand that has been third party tested for quality and purity.
When taking a supplement, you should also follow the dose and timing instructions on the label. Generally your body absorbs only about 500 mg of calcium at a time. Some people find that supplements cause bloating and gas. (6)
Depending on the type of supplement you take, you’ll need to take them with or without food. You may also need to separate them from other supplements or medicines that prevent calcium absorption, such as iron, zinc, or antibiotics .
Calcium is an essential mineral for athletes, as it helps bone health, muscle function, nerve transmission, and energy use.
Athletes should aim to get around 1,500 mg of calcium per day from different kinds of food sources, and consider taking calcium supplements if needed.
By doing so, you can improve their performance and health, and prevent injuries and problems.
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Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 22 years of experience in public health and nutrition. As a performance registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.