May 5, 2017
Calcium Needed
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.

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.

Calcium is found in greatest abundance in dairy products, but is also contained in a number of non-dairy foods. Most foods that contain calcium also provide protein, carbohydrate, riboflavin, Vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium, so it is prudent to recommend to athletes that food sources of calcium be part of their daily diet. Calcium supplementation can be used to “top off” calcium stores, or to make up for an inadequate diet, but they provide calcium alone, and will not be accessible to the body as fuel.

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
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • 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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