Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Calcium - Do You Get Enough?

We all know that getting enough calcium is typically associated with strong bones. Kids need calcium for bone development and as adults we need calcium to help retain healthy bone matrix. Calcium is obviously important for athletes too: runners especially need to pay attention to maintaining bone strength due to all of the pounding our legs take with every run. But an equally important role calcium plays is at the cellular level as a trigger for various cellular events.

Calcium is involved in maintaining regular heart function, nerve conduction, and muscular contraction. Getting enough calcium on a daily basis can be problematic simply because our bodies don’t absorb 100% of the calcium that we consume. Our absorption rates are individual and dependent on a variety of variables, and, our body’s state of need can dictate absorption rates. For example, women need more calcium and will absorb more during pregnancy. Other foods we consume, and medications/drugs, can impact absorption as well.

So while the recommendations for calcium intake is a minimum of 1000mg/day, it’s important to spread our calcium intake throughout the day and exceed that level of intake to maximize our absorption. Vitamin D is an important co-factor in calcium absorption, which is one reason why nearly all milk products are fortified with Vitamin D.

You don’t have to don the famous “milk mustache” to get your daily calcium. Milk and dairy products aren’t the only food items high in this important nutrient. Other high-calcium containing foods include: almonds, bok choi, collards, sardines with bones, and broccoli.

Just as important as eating foods that are rich in calcium is avoiding those things that are known to block absorption (and which tend to be less healthy for you anyway). This includes alcohol, smoking, foods high in sodium or excessive sodium intake, and high-fat foods. And, while I reported on the benefits of caffeine as an ergogenic aid in a previous blog, caffeine is known to increase the body’s need for calcium.

So, should you take a calcium supplement? It could be helpful if you’re adverse to eating foods that are higher in calcium for some reason. But, it’s generally preferred to get your calcium from real, whole foods, because it is believed that the body more readily absorbs calcium through foods. Here’s your homework assignment: check to see how you’re doing in the calcium department. Review your normal daily diet to be sure you’re not neglecting this important nutrient that will improve your health and endurance as a runner.

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