Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

by Stephanie Nunes, RD

As an athlete you should be especially concerned about your bones. Calcium can protect the bones, regulate blood pressure, prevent colon cancer, and new studies show it may even help with weight loss. Scientist can not agree on whether a lack of calcium in the diet can cause muscle cramps, but increasing your dietary intake of calcium could be worth a try if you are plagued with muscle cramps during exercise.

Special concerns:

  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a large concern for women; however both males and females lose calcium as they age.
  • Lactose intolerance: Some people lack an enzyme called lactase that helps digest dairy products. Some athletes who can't tolerate milk can tolerate yogurt, hard cheeses, and small amounts of milk. Ideas= Calcium fortified juice, lactic, canned salmon, tofu, calcium fortified soy milk, broccoli, kale, spinach, and bok Choy.
  • Amenorrheic women: Many amenorrheic women worry about their bone health due to the lack of estrogen. Women who resume menses do restore some of the bone density lost during the months of amenorrhea, but they do not restore all of it. Amenorrheic women should regularly consume three-four 8oz servings of non-fat milk or yogurt (or other calcium-rich foods) daily to protect their bones.
  • Caffeine: Too much caffeine can lead to calcium loss in the bones. Some suggest no more than 300 mg caffeine/day which is approximately 2 cups of coffee.
  • High protein diets- High protein low carbohydrate (extreme) diets, can lead to up to 50% of calcium lost from the bones. It is important for athletes to maintain a healthy balance of protein and carbohydrates in their regular meal plan.

Recommendations:

Aim for 1200 mg day. Eat 2-3 servings of calcium rich foods daily. Choose 1-2 calcium fortified products daily (i.e. cereal, calcium fortified juices).

Dietary Sources of Calcium
FoodAmount Calcium (mg)
Plain yogurt, nonfat 1 cup 450
Plain yogurt, lowfat 1 cup 415
Yogurt, fruit 1 cup 315
Skim milk 1 cup 300
2% milk 1 cup 295
Whole milk 1 cup 190
Soy milk (calcium fortified) 1 cup 250-300
Tofu (w/Calcium sulfate) 1/2 cup 260
Swiss cheese 1 oz. 270
Calcium fortified OJ 1 cup 350
Salmon canned w/bones 3 oz. 205
Soy-Um (calcium fortified) 1 cup 200
Macaroni and cheese 1/2 cup 180
Pudding 1/2 cup 150
Frozen yogurt 1/2 cup 105
Minute maid punch(fortified) 1 cup 100
Graham crackers (fortified) 2 large 100
Almonds 1/2 cup 80
Cottage cheese 1/2 cup 75
Milk chocolate bar 1 oz. 70
Broccoli 1/2 cup 36

A note on supplements:

  • If you want to ensure that you are getting enough calcium every day, try taking 5oo mg of a calcium supplement daily.
  • Calcium supplements should not be used as the sole source of calcium in the diet. (Dairy foods are not only calcium rich but provide riboflavin and B vitamins that help convert food into energy.)
  • Citrical (calcium citrate) is the preferred form of calcium supplement.
  • Viactiv chews or Calcium chews are another option if you don't like swallowing pills. One chew=500mg.
  • Do not take calcium supplements all at once; do not take with iron.
  • Note that taking mega doses of calcium supplements (>2500 mg) or eating tons of calcium rich foods will not help heal a stress fracture sooner. Eating enough calcium regularly WILL help prevent it from happening!
  • Mega doses of Calcium supplements could lead to kidney stones and some studies suggest a greater risk for prostate cancer. More does not always mean better!

Stephanie Nunes is a Registered Dietician, a competitive runner and the mother of two. She resides in San Luis Obispo, CA.