Why must women runners be more conscious about calcium intake?
The word ‘calcium’ rightly brings to our mind a vivid image of our skeletal system, but the role calcium plays in our body is dynamic. It has a significance in how vital organs like the brain and skeletal muscle function. Our ability to flex muscles is aided by calcium and minerals like salt that help in spreading electric signals across neurons (brain cells), improving our cognitive function and nervous system.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. A staggering 99 percent of it is stored in bones and teeth, giving them strength and structure. This fact, coupled with the influence that the mineral has on muscles and brain, is central to anyone who is a runner. And as we add menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause to the equation, the need for and importance of calcium goes up dramatically.
Calcium deficiency and osteoporosis risk
As a woman who runs, you may be at a higher risk of osteoporosis for constantly performing a high-impact exercise like running. The probability of developing osteoporosis increases if you are training for more than seven hours per week. Through every strike, you exert around three times your body weight on the foot. Osteoporosis makes your bones weak and brittle to a degree that a simple act of running can cause a fracture in a bone. By consuming adequate amounts of calcium, you can avoid osteoporosis.
Calcium is also known to attach to fats in your body, decreasing the amount of fat that would otherwise get deposited. It is also known to reduce metabolic syndrome in women that is often associated with various heart conditions and diabetes.
How much calcium is adequate?
Your body has a calcium reserve — a bone bank account where it keeps depositing the mineral during the first 25 years of your life. And as you hit 30, your body starts cashing in on this bank, without allowing you to make any further deposits. Typical calcium requirements in women look like:
- A teen, aged between 14 and 18, needs 1,300mg per day through daily diet and supplement
- An adult, aged between 19 and 70, needs 800mg-1000mg per day
- A pregnant and lactating woman’s needs spike during this period to more than 1,300mg of calcium per day
- The elderly, aged over 70, demand greater amounts too, up to 1,300mg per day
Calcium for runners
As a runner, your calcium needs are likely to be higher than the average — between 1,000mg to 1,500mg — depending on your fitness goal.
- If you are running to lose weight and are on a calorie-deficit diet, you are probably not getting enough calcium for your daily meals
- As you run, you tend to sweat and therefore lose calcium
- If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, your meals are less likely to provide adequate amounts of calcium.
Which foods are good sources of calcium?
There is a greater need for calcium in women who run, as a deficiency can lead to injury, forcing the runner into a sedentary life as means to recovery. Therefore, it’s important to zero in on foods that are a good source of the mineral.
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium.
- Sardines and salmon (with the bones) are the second-best sources of dietary calcium.
- Vegetables like amaranth, agathi leaves, Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli can also help contribute to your daily consumption.
- Fruits such as oranges and figs contain small amounts of Ca. Lastly, items like soybeans, tofu, and oatmeal can help boost your calcium supply.
Calcium supplements are just that — supplements
While supplements can be a reliable source of avoiding calcium deficiency, one should resort to them only if the calcium needs are hard to meet through diet.
- Before you add any supplement to your diet, ensure that you consult your physician or dietitian.
- Consider calcium carbonate, as its absorption doesn’t depend on food for absorption.
- Avoid taking calcium supplements with a large serving of salad, as large amounts of oxalic acid in greens can impair calcium absorption.
- Another compound that can reduce calcium absorption is caffeine, so avoid taking your supplements right after your cup of coffee or tea.
- Don’t club your iron supplements with calcium. Both minerals use the same binding site, and this can impair iron absorption. Take them at least two hours apart.
Consumption of adequate amounts of calcium through diet is often overlooked, partly because the deficiency is only felt later in adult life, when the body starts using the calcium stores from the bone. It’s therefore important to follow a balanced diet and start meeting your calcium needs today!