Nov 30, 2018
Adding calcium to the athlete’s diet
By Leslie Bonci

Calcium is essential to a number of systems in the body, not the least of which is bone health. Most members of the general public are aware of this fact, as are athletes and their coaches. But, most athletes (as well as members of the general public) still do not get enough calcium in their diets.

The primary factor contributing to this is avoidance of dairy foods. Many athletes have legitimate concerns, such as dairy intolerance or allergy or they subscribe to a vegetarian diet. Many, however, have bought into the wealth of wrong information about the unhealthiness of dairy: misconceptions about the fat content of dairy products, phlegm production caused by ingesting dairy, and other myths pertaining to the detrimental effects of consuming dairy before exercise.

If calcium intake is inadequate, skeletal mass will be suboptimal. In other words, when calcium is limited, the entire skeleton suffers, resulting in flimsy bones.

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Since the body cannot make calcium, daily ingestion is the only way to guarantee adequate intake. For adolescents between the ages of nine and 18 years, the DRI (Daily Reference Intake) for calcium is 1,300 mg/day, but girls age 12 to 19 years consume only an average of 790 mg/day, and boys in this age group consume an average of 1,150 mg/day.

There are many ways for athletes to boost calcium intake at every meal and snack. Even those who don’t like or tolerate dairy products have a range of products to pick from. Here are some suggestions:

  • A sports bar
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Cereal with milk
  • Canned salmon instead of tuna for a sandwich
  • A fruit smoothie made with milk, yogurt, nonfat dry milk powder, and fruit
  • Cream-type soups made with skim milk and added nonfat dry milk powder
  • A glass of calcium-fortified orange juice
  • A latte with skim milk
  • Trail mix of calcium-fortified cereal, almonds, and dried fruit
  • Canned beans added to a stir fry, soup, pasta sauce, or stew

Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, is owner of Active Eating Advice by Leslie, a nutrition consulting company based in Pittsburgh. She is the sports dietitian for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Kansas City Chiefs, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Toronto Blue Jays. She is also the author of Sports Nutrition for Coaches.

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