Calcium can be easily forgotten when it comes to sports nutrition. The first thing that people often think about with calcium is milk, but have you ever wondered what it does in our body or most importantly, whether you are having enough? AND how it could help to improve your sports performance? Keep reading to find out!
What is calcium?
Calcium is a mineral responsible for building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. The majority of your body’s calcium (99%) lives in your bones to provide it with structure and strength. The other 1% of calcium is stored in your blood and muscle cells, responsible for several other roles in the body.
If you do not get enough calcium through your diet, your body will remove calcium from your bones for use around the body. This is not ideal because if your body removes more calcium than it deposits, this will lead to reduced bone strength, therefore gradually weakening your bones.
Calcium for sports performance
So you might be wondering, how exactly does this relate to sports performance? Well, calcium plays an important role in healthy bones, teeth, muscles and nerve function, all which help to support sports performance. Having weak and fragile bones as a result of a calcium deficiency can lead to an increased risk of sports-related injuries such as falls and fractures which can hinder your sports performance or even prevent you from playing the season! If you are recovering from an injury, having a calcium deficiency can delay recovery as your bone struggles to repair and replenish its stores.
Additionally, frequent high intensity physical training may elevate your calcium requirements due to increased losses through excessive sweating. Your training may also include weight-bearing or resistance exercises and an adequate calcium intake will ensure your body is able to repair your bones effectively after your training sessions.
So how much do you need?
For adults, the recommended dietary intake for calcium is 1,000 mg/day, however for women over 50 years this increases to 1,300 mg/day. As the human body cannot produce calcium, we need to get it from food. Calcium is primarily found in dairy and milk-based foods, with a smaller amount in other alternatives. For adults, the recommended number of serves from the dairy food group is 2.5 serves per day, increasing up to 4 serves per day for women over 50 years.
Calcium food sources
Milk-based sources, 1 serve equals:
- One cup (250ml) milk
- One tub (200g) yoghurt
- Two slices (40g) hard cheese
- Half cup (120g) ricotta cheese
- Calcium fortified soy products such as milk (atleast 100mg calcium per 100ml), yoghurt, cheese
Or if you do not eat dairy, you can get about the same amount of calcium as a serve of dairy from these alternatives:
- Almonds with skin (100g)
- Canned sardines in water (60g)
- Canned pink salmon with bones (100g)
- Firm tofu (100g)
- Dark green leafy vegetables
Now, it is important to talk about vitamin D because calcium would not be able to perform effectively without its other half! Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so they work together as a team to keep your bones strong and healthy. There is very little vitamin D in foods; our main source is from the sun. So with the cooler months ahead of us and with self-isolation well and truly underway, don’t forget to try to spend some time in the sun to get your daily vitamin D fix! If you are worried about being deficient in vitamin D then speak to your GP.
Take home message
The best thing to do is to eat a wide variety of high quality foods from all of the five food groups. This will put you in the best position to not only optimise your calcium intake, but also meet your overall nutritional needs. Your sport, training, goals and food preferences vary so get in touch with a Dietitian if you would like your individualised nutritional requirements assessed.