For many athletes, sports nutrition is all about building and fueling muscle. Protein fat and carbs – all the macros – get a mention as well as some of vitamins involved in metabolism. Bones tend to get less of a focus – but bones need looking after too. Focusing too much on one aspect of diet and paying little attention to others can mean that you have great muscles – and great results – but can be storing up problems for the future.
A little about nutrition for bones
Bones need a few things to be healthy – lots of exercise, moderate alcohol and no smoking along with a diet that supplies bones with the nutrients they need. The two most important nutrients for bones are calcium and protein. Your skeleton houses 99% of the calcium in your body - the rest is involved in functions like blood clotting and muscle function. Missing out on calcium or protein can impact on bone strength and resistance. This is something you may not see until you are older. In Ireland, 50% of women and 25% of men over 55 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Taking care of bones from a young age can help you to reduce the chances of developing this disease. But, calcium Is just part of the story. As well as calcium and protein, bones need phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins K & D and zinc.
Milk, cheese and yoghurts are all great sources of calcium. Adults and children need about 800mg of calcium per day and teens need 1200mg per day. Eating three servings of dairy per day will give you the calcium you need for healthy bones (5 servings for teens). You can find small amounts of calcium in green vegetables but don’t rely on green veg alone for calcium – you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli per day to get the 800mg of calcium you need. Think of green veg as a top up with dairy or other high calcium food as the base. If you don’t take dairy then calcium-fortified plant milks are another place to get calcium. Almonds and sesame seeds also have calcium – but again these should be a top up to your main calcium food. Another great place to get calcium is tinned salmon and tinned sardines. Because you eat tinned fish bones-and-all they have a lot of calcium to offer. A tin of sardines will give you the same calcium as two glasses of milk.
Magnesium is another important mineral for healthy bones. Nuts and seeds are rich sources of magnesium and are worth eating everyday. You can add seeds to salads, breakfast cereals and yoghurt. Nuts make a great snack in between meals – just remember to keep nuts to around one handful per day.
We need 700mg of phosphorus per day. Milk and yoghurt are good sources as well as fish like tuna and mackerel.
Needed to absorb calcium, vitamin D is important for bone health. Find vitamin D in oil-rich fish like salmon and tuna and foods with added vitamin D. You will also get small amounts of vitamin D in eggs.
Found in leafy green vegetables, vitamin K helps to maintain normal bones as well as normal blood clotting. Find vitamin K in kale, spinach and broccoli.
Check out this great recipie for Pine Nut Spinach & Rice Salad in the video below!
Consultant Nutritionist - MSc., BSc., MINDI
Sarah has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from Trinity College and a Masters in European Food Regulation.
She runs a food and nutrition consultancy giving one-to-one advice on nutrition and diet as well as working with some of Ireland's leading food companies.