Calcium is one of those underappreciated workhorses of the body. It stabilizes blood pressure, promotes blood clotting, maintains brain function, promotes insulin sensitivity, and even helps your muscles contract. Oh and it helps keep your bones and teeth strong too. In fact, the role of calcium is so vital throughout your body, that it will pull calcium from bones to make sure everything else functions properly if you’re not taking in enough from your diet.
From a sports perspective, trace amounts of calcium can be lost in sweat (especially in long-distance races in warm environments) and adequate calcium is required to promote bone growth in the young skeleton (30 years or younger) and bone maintenance in the aging skeleton (over 30). Consider the impact your activities have on your bones – if you want to continue to run far and lift strong, you should be getting adequate calcium.
The recommended daily allowances (RDA) for calcium are:
Boys 9-18: 1300 mg
Men 19-70: 1000 mg
Men 71+: 1200 mg
Girls 9-18: 1300 mg
Women 19-50: 1000 mg
Women 51+: 1200 mg
Of course, more isn’t always better – excessive supplement intake has been tied to potential cardiovascular events. In fact, research shows that there isn’t a huge increased need for daily calcium intake for athletes. Rather, it’s all the more vital that athletes get the recommended amounts to ensure adequate repair and recovery. As with most things in life, food is usually a better source than supplements.
In addition to dairy sources, eating a varied diet rich in dark leafy greens (including bok choy), fruit, nuts, seeds, beans and fish with the bones in (i.e. sardines) will give you plenty of calcium – and you’ll get other health benefits from these foods as well. Vegans, don’t despair, there are plenty of non-animal sources of calcium!
To meet 1200 mg of calcium a day, an example range of foods for one day would be: 1 cup of milk, 6 oz. of yogurt, 3 oz. salmon, 1 cup broccoli, 1 cup cooked green beans, 1 orange, 1/4 cup almonds (23 total). Here’s a list of different foods rich in calcium:
|1 cup of milk||300||3 oz salmon||180|
|6 oz of yogurt||350||1/2 cup oysters (canned)||60|
|1 oz hard cheese (cheddar)||240||1/2 cup shrimp (canned)||40|
|2 slices processed cheese||265||1/2 cup bok choy||75|
|1/4 cup cottage cheese||120||1 cup kale||94|
|1/2 cup soft serve frozen yogurt||100||1 cup broccoli||178|
|1/2 cup ice cream||85||1 cup celery||54|
|1/2 cup tofu||258||1 cup cooked green beans||58|
|1 cup pinto beans or chick peas||80||1 cup cooked butternut squash||84|
|2 Tbsp. flax seeds||52||1 cup cooked sweet potato||70|
|1/4 cup almonds||95||1 medium naval orange||56|
|1 Tbsp almond butter||43||2/3 cup raisins||53|
|1 Tbsp sesame seeds||90||10 medium dried figs||269|
|1 Tbsp Tahini||63||1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice||300|
|1/4 cup Brazil nuts or hazelnuts||55||1 cup enriched soy milk||300|
|8 medium sardines (canned)||370||1 cup enriched rice milk||300|
|Source: USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory|
Jason Machowsky is a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and certified personal trainer at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.