1. Expert Advice
3rd of April, 2024

Calcium - Strong Bones, Stronger Performance

Calcium - Strong Bones, Stronger Performance - Athena Nutrition

As an active individual, many people will understand the importance of fueling your body for optimal performance. Yet, amidst discussions of protein, carbs, and hydration, there's one essential nutrient that sometimes gets overlooked; calcium. In this blog, we'll explore how calcium plays a crucial role in supporting bone health, muscle function, and overall performance, particularly for athletic women.

The Foundation of Bone Health

Calcium is a key component of bone health, providing both structure and function to support your body's movements and activities. However, optimal bone health is not just about calcium alone; it requires adequate amounts of vitamin D, proper fueling, weight-bearing exercise, and hormonal balance. These elements work in harmony to influence building and maintaining strong, resilient bones that can withstand the demands of an active lifestyle. Calcium is also important for regulating heart rhythm, helping muscles contract and blood clotting.

The Dynamic Nature of Bone

Many people perceive bone as static and unchanging, but in reality, it's a dynamic tissue that undergoes constant remodeling throughout your life. This process starts during adolescence when bone mass accumulates rapidly, continues into adulthood where bone maintenance occurs, and eventually, in late adulthood, bones begin to weaken. The factors influencing this remodeling include exercise, nutrition, and hormonal changes.

By the age of 20, most individuals have acquired about 90% of their peak bone mass. After this age, it becomes challenging to gain more bone mass, emphasising the importance of maximising bone mass before reaching this milestone. However, even after this point, it's crucial to maintain the bone mass we have.

Calcium plays a vital role in this process. Most of the body's calcium is stored in bones and teeth, contributing to their structure and function. However, the body still requires a steady intake of calcium from the diet. If the diet lacks sufficient calcium, the body will extract calcium from the bones, compromising their structural integrity and leading to weakening.

Weak bones are more prone to stress fractures, which can significantly impact performance by requiring time off from training. Therefore, ensuring an adequate intake of calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and supporting overall physical health, particularly for active women.

Understanding Women's Unique Needs

Women face specific challenges when it comes to bone health. With lower bone density and smaller bones compared to men, women require higher levels of calcium to maintain optimal bone strength and density. On top of this, hormonal factors, such as estrogen levels, can significantly impact bone health, making it crucial for women to prioritise calcium intake, especially as they age. Women are at higher risk of bone loss, and conditions like osteoporosis because as they age they lose the protective effect of estrogen. Studies have shown that the prevalence of bone stress injuries among female athletes is as high as 20%, and they are 2-4 times more common in females compared to males. Whether you're naturally menstruating or not, getting enough calcium and vitamin D is key to supporting your bone health and overall well-being.

Nourishing Your Body with Calcium-Rich Foods

Fortunately, calcium is readily available in a variety of foods, some sources are:

  • Dairy (e.g Milk, Cheese & Yoghurt)
  • Canned Salmon
  • Dark Leafy Greens (e.g. Spinach, Silverbeet)
  • Almonds
  • Fortified Cereals
  • Athena Crisp + Calcium Bar (25% RDI Calcium)

Incorporating these foods into your snacks and meals ensures you meet your daily calcium needs. In New Zealand and Australia, daily calcium recommendations for women are as follows: 1300mg/day for 12-18 year olds, 1000mg/day for 19-50 year olds, and 1300mg/day for those over 50. Sourcing calcium from food is preferable, as it increases intake of other nutrients. However, with busy schedules and on-the-go lifestyles, getting enough calcium from diet alone can be challenging. That's where supplementation can come in.  

It's essential to note the role of Vitamin D in enhancing calcium absorption and bone mineralization, emphasising its importance alongside calcium.

Conclusion

Calcium is a non-negotiable nutrient and is vital for maintaining strong bones, especially for active women. We've explored how calcium serves as a crucial component of bone health, providing structure and function essential for optimal performance. Understanding the dynamic nature of bone and the unique needs of women highlights the importance of incorporating calcium-rich foods into your diet and considering supplementation when necessary. Whether it's through dietary choices, supplementation, or a combination of both, ensuring adequate calcium intake equips us with the foundation for to be active today and in the years to come.

 

References

https://www.ais.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/1061639/Calcium-Infographic-FINAL.pdf
https://www.ais.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1037685/Calcium-Supplement-fact-sheet.pdf
https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/micronutrient-considerations-for-the-female-athlete
https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/nutrition-for-female-athlete-bone-health
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-019-01161-2
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553541/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35171303/
https://nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/nutrients/minerals/calcium/
https://healthybonesaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/hba-fact-sheet-calcium.pdf