Toolbox: Calcium Intake for Cyclists
As endurance athletes we have so much to focus on. Training, hydration, sleep, equipment, getting enough protein, carbohydrates, how about good fats? How fast are we? Are we climbing well? Sleeping well? What about calcium and bone health?
Often during all of the long days we forget about some of the other important aspects of our health, such as how our bones are doing? Are we doing enough to keep them strong? How is your bone mineral density (BMD)? Are you consuming enough calcium? Are you a vegetarian getting enough calcium?
More and more research is concluding that cyclists, triathletes, and mountain bikers need to focus on their bone density and need to add some high impact activity to their training programs in order to help reduce their chances of osteoporosis or osteopenia. These diseases featuring low bone mineral density can be a significant risk not just for the elderly, but also for young adults. In addition, research is demonstrating that it is difficult if not impossible for those with low bone mineral density while young to ever catch up through the ensuing decades. Therefore, it is critical to think now about maintaining bone health through both activity and diet.
No matter how hard you stomp on the pedals and what your maximal power might be, cycling remains a non-weight bearing sport. The hip joint and spine are especially vulnerable. By doing weights or other weight bearing activity and putting strain on those joints, you can help to preserve bone mass which will serve you well later in life. Activities can include weight lifting, plyometric activity or other high impact activity other than their endurance sport.
On top of adding high impact activity to your training regime, you also want to make sure you are consuming optimal amounts of calcium in your diet.
Many endurance athletes are constantly putting dietary restrictions on themselves in a quest to control their weight. This too will backfire down the road as malnourishment will also be detrimental to bone health. We must think not only about weight and results, but also our long term health, the big picture.
It is important to make sure you are getting enough dietary calcium as this is an important piece of the puzzle in supporting bone growth and maintenance. Vegetarian athletes are becoming a larger part of the population and those athletes need to make sure they have a good idea of non-dairy sources of calcium to meet their needs. We all know that dairy has calcium, what other sources can we turn to as non-dairy eaters or even as alternative for dairy eaters? Let’s take a look at some guidelines and some sources for calcium intake.
According to Osteoporosis Canada here are calcium needs by age:
• 13-18 years: 1300 mg
• 19-50 years: 1000 mg
• 50+ years: 1200 mg
• Pregnant or lactating: 1000 mg
Who Are At Risk?
There are no specific RDA recommendations for endurance athletes. However the AIS (Australian Institute for Sport) notes that some athletes are at risk of sub-optimal calcium intakes or poor bone health:
• Athletes with low calcium intakes due to inadequate energy intake, or inadequate intake of dairy and fortified soy products.
• Athletes with poor calcium balance due to conditions involving malabsorption from the small bowel such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
• Athletes with low energy availability due to restricted energy intake and/or high energy requirements.
• Female athletes with impaired menstrual function (i.e. failure to start menses, secondary amenorrhoea, menopause).
Sources of Calcium
Below is a list of typical calcium contents for different foods. These are mostly non-dairy sources with a few common dairy sources included):
Almond/Rice or Soy Milk Fortified 8oz: 300 mg
Milk Whole 1 cup: 300 mg
Kefir ¾ cup/175ml: 187 mg
Canned Salmon ½ can (105g): 240 mg
Tofu 3oz: 130 mg
Yogurt Plain 1-2% ¾ cup: 332 mg
Orange Juice Fortified 1 cup: 300 mg
Almonds Dry ½ cup: 186 mg
Soy Beans 1 cup: 170 mg
Sardines with bones ½ can (55g): 200 mg
Collard Green ½ cup: 133 mg
Instant Oatmeal Calcium Added 1 pouch 32g: 150 mg
Beet Greens Cooked ½ cup: 83 mg
Chick Peas 1 cup: 77 mg
Turnip Greens ½ cup: 104 mg
Broccoli Cooked ½ cup: 33 mg
Hummus ½ cup: 50 mg
Parmesan Cheese Grated 1 tbsp: 70 mg
Acorn/Butternut Squash ½ cup: 44 mg
Edamame ½ cup: 52 mg
Chia Seed 1oz: 180 mg
Kale Cooked ½ cup: 49 mg
Reading the Labels
To aid you in reading any labels here is a tip. When you see % of Daily Value (DV) this is based on 1000 mg of calcium per day. Therefore if you see 30% of DV it would mean 300 mg of calcium, 15% of DV would mean 150 mg of calcium.
There are many other factors in the body which can affect your calcium absorption including hormones, acidity and the presence of other vitamins such as Vitamin D, which your body requires to absorb calcium. Your skin makes vitamin D from the UVB rays in sunlight and can store vitamin D for later use. Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as wild caught salmon, mackerel and tuna, eggs, butter, liver and fortified foods.
This is only a snapshot of additional info that can affect bone health, however the purpose of this article is to supply you with good sources of calcium that you can add to your diet to help you to consume optimal calcium for your age group.
Whether or not endurance athletes should consume additional calcium is unclear. If you do choose to do so I would recommend spreading calcium intake evenly throughout the day in order to allow for optimal absorption. Ideally aim for a maximum of 500 mg at any one meal for best absorption.
Building and maintaining strong bones is a lifelong process that we need to stay on top of. Remember there are both physical and nutritional requirements for strong bones and hormonal balance can play a part as well. Get the full picture by visiting your medical practitioner.
Always consult with your physician or naturopath in order to get a clear idea of what your current bone health status is. As well it is important to find out if you are deficient in any other vitamins or minerals that can support calcium absorption or have any ailments or dietary habits that may be interfering with your calcium absorption. Lastly a physician can tell you of any potential interactions with calcium supplements and medications.
Anne Guzman has a passion for helping athletes unlock their top potential through Sports Nutrition. Anne is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Kinesiology major and Sports Nutrition Consultant. Anne raced in the professional women’s road circuit in both North America and in Europe from 2008-2012 on 2 Canadian UCI road teams. Previous to this Anne was a provincial champion and Canadian Champion medalist as a varsity freestyle wrestler at UWO.
Anne has worked with endurance athletes ranging from beginners to masters racers as well as World Champions and full time Professionals. Based on her own experiences, Anne is truly able to understand the intricacies of the endurance sports athlete and relates well to her athletes. Whether it’s understanding exactly what it feels like to race for 5 hours in the heat, to race for 6 days in a row, to race a criterium or to compete in a cyclocross race, she can relate.
Anne is a big believer that each athlete is their own individual and that the best sports nutrition program is the one customized for each athlete and their specific needs.
Anne is the owner of Nutritionsolutionsanneguzman.com and a Sports Nutritionist for Peaks Coaching Group.