Consuming enough calcium is important for bone health and athletic performance. This mineral is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, and it also plays a key role in hormone action, blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve function.
Unfortunately, most athletes don’t meet the recommended calcium intake, and research has shown that most female athletes are deficient in this mineral.
Peak bone density in women occurs between the ages of 18 to 30, but a lifelong intake of the recommended 1,000–1,300 milligrams per day is advised to prevent bone-related diseases such as osteoporosis and injuries such as stress fractures.
Dairy foods are the richest sources of calcium. If you can tolerate dairy, boost your calcium intake with three or more servings of dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurt) per day. Dairy alternatives, such as soy or almond milk, can be good sources of calcium as well—just make sure that these products are fortified with added calcium, as they don’t naturally contain the mineral. Other food sources of calcium are vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and spinach; salmon; and sardines with bones.
Calcium supplements are another way to increase your intake. Make sure that you’re taking the supplement properly, though. Calcium supplements are usually either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. While you don’t need to take calcium citrate with a meal to absorb the calcium, you do need to consume calcium carbonate with food. Also, calcium is absorbed best when taken 400–500 mg at a time. Taking more than that amount at one time will decrease absorption and may lead to stomach discomfort.
Sotiria Everett is a sports nutritionist for the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She is a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist in New York State (CDN). At HSS, she provides sports nutrition counseling to active individuals and athletes of all ages.