The Importance of Calcium in Athletes: Bones and Beyond

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body!  Not only is calcium essential for the health of your bones and teeth, but it plays  important roles in muscle contraction, nervous system function, stabilization of blood pressure, contributes to normal brain function, blood clotting, secretion of hormones and helps maintain a regular heart beat.   Wow!  Are you motivated to get your daily calcium dose yet?  If you are an athlete, you should be.

In a study of 72 elite female athletes, 24% failed to meet the estimated average requirements for calcium! International Journal of Sports Nutrition Exercise metabolism, Volume 20, Number 2, 2010

We know that calcium is important in the diet for bones and other health reasons, and yet we see there are athletes at risk of low calcium levels.  You may need to pay closer attention to make sure you get enough calcium containing foods every day, especially if…

  • Total  caloric intake is low from dieting or on controlled calories for weight class and aesthetic sports
  • Not getting enough calcium-rich foods in your diet
  • Prone to heavy sweating leading to losses of calcium in sweat
  • On Vegetarian diets that have limited calcium-rich foods
  • High intensity training without the proper tapering phase
  • Female athletes with any of the above attempting to improve performance (marathon runners, triathletes, cyclists etc.)

Studies on female athletes who train more than 7 hours a week have been found to be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis due to excessive training.  Excessive exercise with insufficient calories to meet the demands of training can cause hormones to drop and the menstrual cycle to stop; interfering with bone formation and inevitably sport or exercise performance.

The recommended intake for adults is 1000-1500 mg of calcium per day. Fortunately, calcium is found in a variety of different foods and achieving the recommended amount is not as difficult as one would think. Drinking a cup of skim milk, for example, contains approximately 300mg of calcium, and a cup of collard greens contains approximately 350mg. Other calcium-rich foods are yogurt, cheese, kale, broccoli, salmon, sardines or fortified foods such as cereals, juices, soy/rice beverages and tofu.

Maximize your calcium absorption by including calcium containing recovery snacks!

  • Greek yogurt and almonds
  • Hard boiled eggs and string cheese
  • Fruit smoothie made with milk or yogurt, and calcium & vitamin D fortified orange juice
  • Chocolate milk

The important message to athletes is to incorporate a diet adequate in calories, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fluids to support the physical demands and replenish the physiologic losses incurred with physical training.

Just one cup of chocolate milk provides 300 mg of calcium; a great addition to your calcium containing sport nutrition plan! Bookmark to get updates, event details and all the latest news from the original recovery drink.


(1)   National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact sheet: calcium

(2)   Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011.

(3)   Nattiv A, Loucks AB, Manore MM, Sanborn CF, Sundgot-Borgen J, Warren MP; American College of Sports Medicine American College of Sports Medicine position stand. The female athlete triad. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007; 39: 1867-1882.

(4)   Calcium Supplement. Australian Sports Commission.

(5)   Optimal Bone Health in Athletes, 2013 Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN,

(6)   Heaney S, O’Connor H, Gifford J, Naughton G. Comparison of strategies for assessing nutrition adequacy in elite female athletes’dietary intake. Int J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010; 20(2): 245Y256.