An Athlete's Guide to Calcium

STACK Expert Brett Singer explains why calcium is important for young athletes and suggest how to make sure you get enough.

Calcium builds strong bones, but that's not its only job. The body needs calcium for blood clotting, muscle contraction and for the breakdown of carbohydrate stores for energy. It may also lower blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy body weight.

If you're a young athlete, paying attention to your calcium intake is especially important. These are the years when you build up your peak bone density. The greater your density, the less likely you are to sustain a bone fracture or develop osteoperosis later in life. When you don't get the recommended amount of calcium, calcium reserves in your body are depleted in order to maintain normal blood levels, resulting in increased risk of fractures.

Where to Get Your Calcium

Teen athletes can meet their daily calcium requirement with four servings of dairy—2 percent or skim milk, yogurt, and cheese. But some of you may not consume four servings per day. You may simply not eat that much, or you may be avoiding dairy to lose fat. So you may need to get your calcium from other sources. Non-dairy drinks like soy, almond or rice milk and fortified juices are good options. Broccoli, kale and collard greens also provide significant levels of calcium, as do nuts, fish with edible bones like sardines, and tofu that has been processed with calcium.

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

  • Males and Females, ages 9-18: 1,300mg/day
  • Males and Females, over 18: 1,000mg/day
  • Females, over 50: 1,200mg/day
Learn why calcium is especially important for female athletes.

High-Calcium Meal Ideas

  • Snack: 1 cup of yogurt with 1 oz. of almonds and 1/4 cup of chopped fruit (450mg of calcium)
  • Salad: 1 cup of kale with 1/2 cup of broccoli, 1/4 cup of chopped carrots, 1 oz. of walnuts and sprinkle of dried cranberries (150mg of calcium)
  • Stir Fry: 1 cup of cooked rice with 1/2 cup of broccoli, 1/2 cup of tofu made with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup of pineapple, and 1/2 cup of additional vegetables of your choice. Add low sodium soy sauce and minced garlic to taste. (400mg of calcium)
  • Snack: Two slices of whole grain toast with 2 tbsp. of almond butter and 8 oz. of calcium-fortified soy milk. (450mg of calcium)

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