Have you been trying to optimize your athletic performance and feel like something is holding you back? A surprising factor may be affecting your ability to improve your athletic performance- your calcium levels! Calcium is one of the essential minerals that your body needs to function properly. Because it is “essential,” this means that your body cannot make Calcium and you have to get it through diet and supplementation. If you are not getting enough, you may notice issues in several areas, including in your fitness and endurance. Read on to recognize the signs of low calcium levels, how it may be affecting your sport performance, and what you can do to fix the problem!
What does Calcium do?
Calcium is a mineral you may be familiar with for its role in bone health. If you grew up in a household like mine, you were most likely told to drink all the milk to “build strong bones!” But did you know Calcium has many other roles in the body? Calcium’s long list of essential functions include:
- Mineralization of skeletal bones and teeth
- Blood clotting
- Regulating muscle contraction and relaxation
- Regulating a normal heart rhythm
- Nerve signaling between different parts of your nervous system
- Helping to maintain normal blood pressure
- Signaling hormonal secretion
What happens if I don’t get enough Calcium?
Calcium plays a role in essentially all parts of a healthy, functioning body, and is the most abundant mineral in the body. However, many people are not getting enough of this essential mineral. In fact, a survey of Americans found that about 39% of people were consuming less than the recommended daily amount of calcium. With calcium being the most abundant mineral in the human body, your body needs to maintain tight control of blood calcium levels. This means that if you are not getting enough calcium through your diet, your body will leach calcium from your bones to your blood to maintain proper calcium levels. Low calcium can be asymptomatic or result in symptoms such as:
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle cramps
- Weak or brittle nails
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Easy bone fracturing
- Dry skin, or other skin conditions
- Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise
- Alopecia, or loss of hair
If you are concerned about your calcium levels or just want to check your levels for peace of mind, try taking the Vessel Wellness test today! Not only will it measure your current calcium level, once you take the test, you will have access to a plan of action and suggestions if your calcium levels are found to be low.
Who is at risk for low calcium?
There are several groups of people that are at a higher risk for calcium deficiency. These groups include:
- Postmenopausal women
- Individuals who avoid dairy products, or those with a lactose intolerance or allergy
- People with a vitamin D deficiency
- Those with thyroid disease, or those who have had a partial thyroidectomy
- People with high or low magnesium levels
- Those with renal disease
If you fall into one of these categories, it is especially important to monitor your calcium intake and calcium levels, as well as your vitamin d and magnesium levels.
How are Calcium and Sports Performance related?
As the roles of calcium and symptoms of deficiency have been discussed, you may have already started guessing how calcium is related to sports performance and endurance. Here, we can break down the term “sport performance” and look at exercise as a whole; whether you are walking, training for a marathon, a regular joe in the gym, or a professional athlete, your calcium level will impact your exercise performance and vice versa. As exercise intensity increases, your body’s excretion of calcium may also increase. If you do not have adequate calcium levels, your body may take calcium from your bones to maintain the proper levels of calcium in your blood. Calcium also affects several factors related to exercise, including:
- Muscle cramping during exercise
- Muscle gain
- Fatigue during exercise
- Risk for bone fracture during exercise
- Transport of oxygen during exercise
Therefore, consuming enough calcium is crucial to optimize exercise performance and ensure that calcium levels are maintained during exercise to prevent any adverse impacts on bone health. Some studies have even shown that having a pre-exercise meal high in calcium helps to maintain the proper serum calcium levels and protect bones during exercise.
Sources of Calcium
Given that calcium is so important to exercise and bone health, consuming foods rich in calcium is essential. Think this will just be a list of dairy foods? Think again! You may be surprised by some of the foods that are rich in calcium. Some of the best sources of calcium include-
- Dairy products, including yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, and cheese
- Fortified orange juice
- Fortified soymilk
- Canned salmon, with bones
- Fortified cereals
- Greens such as spinach, turnip greens, broccolini, and kale
- Chia seeds
- Beans and lentils
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of calcium is 1000-1200mg for adult females and 1000mg for adult males daily. To put this in perspective, one cup of milk has about 300mg of calcium, whereas ½ cup of cooked spinach contains about 123mg of calcium. You can see how someone who avoids dairy products or doesn’t eat many fortified foods may be at risk for calcium deficiency.
Try these meals high in calcium
As mentioned earlier, having an adequate calcium intake is essential to exercise performance and maintaining healthy bones. Try these pre- and post-workout snacks and meals for a calcium boost next time you exercise!
Greek yogurt and berries
They say breakfast is the best meal of the day, right? Start your day off strong and try a bowl of greek yogurt, chia seeds, and berries of your choice for a high in protein and calcium breakfast. Combining 1 cup of greek yogurt, ¾ cup berries, and 2 tbsp of chia seeds would give your body about 370mg, or 37%, of your daily calcium needs!
Spinach tofu scramble
Scramble together spinach, tofu, and veggies of your choice for a pre or post-workout meal. Combine at least ½ cup cooked spinach and ½ cup tofu for a calcium boost of about 370mg!
Don’t have a lot of time on your hands after a workout and running to the next thing on your agenda? Don’t sweat it- grab a glass of low-fat milk to get both calcium and protein necessary for protecting your bones and repairing muscle. One glass of milk packs a punch of calcium, with about 300mg per 8-oz serving.
Sardines, kale, and potatoes
Need a well-balanced, yummy dinner? Try combining sardines, sauteed kale, and baked potatoes for a calcium-packed meal. Together, 3oz of sardines, 1 cup kale, and ½ baked potato give you about 425mg of calcium!
What about calcium supplements?
Feel like you may have a hard time getting enough calcium from diet alone? Don’t sweat! You can also try taking a calcium supplement. There are several types of calcium supplements on the market, and choosing the right one for you is essential! The two main forms of calcium supplements available are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is usually the cheaper option, but may cause some gastrointestinal upset, whereas calcium citrate is typically better tolerated. Everybody's needs and background are different, so we suggest discussing your individual needs with your doctor. If you need additional help choosing a calcium supplement, ask your nutrition coach in the chat feature in the Vessel app!
Level Up Your Sport Performance with Calcium
Calcium is more than just the mineral in your bones. Your calcium levels can have significant impacts on your sport performance, so don’t overlook this important mineral! Be sure to include sources of calcium in your diet and take the Vessel wellness quiz to get personalized program recommendations to increase your Calcium levels. What is one thing you can do today to ensure you have adequate calcium?
Sydney McAvoy See all the author’s articles