Nutrition For Bone Health
Make no bones about it, whether you are a younger or older athlete, bone health is imperative if you want to stay active. Not many people will rejoice at the amount of time they need to take off from their activities of life due to a full break in the bone or a hairline fracture. These painful and immobilizing events can impact your physical and mental health. The best way to optimize your athleticism is to prevent this from happening, although most don’t consider bone health until its too late… Regardless! Here you are! Reading this blog on bone health so you are likely right where you need to be for prevention or learning how to heal quickly. So lets “break” right in to this topic – har har.
Young and Old Bones
Your age makes a difference when it comes to fortifying your skeletal fortress. Focusing on key nutrition components (outlined below) to build up your bones early on in life is imperative.
Puberty |4-18 years old
By 18 years of age you have already hit 95% of your maximum bone density. During the 2-3 years of puberty your body forms about 60% of its final bone mass. Children and teenagers need to focus on adequate caloric intake, addressing any potential dietary deficiencies early on, and supporting a healthy menstrual cycle is imperative. I highly recommend limiting excessive sugar and soda consumption as that can impair bone health and increase your long term risk of a variety of chronic diseases.
Adulthood |30-40 years old
By age 30 the hay is in the barn as you have reached your peak bone mass for life. After the age of 30 you see a slow natural decline in bone mineral density (BMD) that naturally occurs with aging. Factors such as exercise frequency and types, dietary adequacy, injuries, and environment can play a role in how quickly or slowly that natural loss of BMD occurs.
Menopause |40-55ish years old
Ah yes, every woman’s favorite period of life! As your ovaries close up shop and stop producing estrogen, we see bone loss accelerate naturally. Your bone health at this point is a cumulative history of your energy availability, menstrual status overtime, genetics and exposure to other nutrition, exercise types and frequencies and or environmental factors. Ensuring adequate nutrition early in life will drastically improve your bone integrity as you age. Continual nutrition support over your lifetime can help to slow the progression of natural age related bone degradation.
Bone health is just as important for men as it is for women. Men with low testosterone levels have an increased risk for osteoporosis so regular hormone testing can help to identify if you maybe at risk. Male athletes who are cyclists endurance runners, rowers or participate in weight category sports have a higher chance of low bone mineral density. This is due to lower caloric and nutrient intakes as well as low weight being activities in the case of cyclists.
Bone Health Risk Factors
Nutrition Risk Factors
If you are under eating, be it intentionally or accidentally, this can put you in a position for poor bone health. Those with low energy availability or inadequate caloric intake to start are not meeting their caloric needs to support their lifestyle. In addition, inadequate caloric intake resulting in less access to important vitamins and minerals in your diet that support bone health.
Further, if you have cut out whole food groups, such as dairy, or follow a vegan/vegetarian diets, likely your calcium intake is compromised in comparison to the recommendations (see below). If you need to follow specific dietary protocols for health or personal reasons, work with a specialist like Eleanor Baker to create a personalize program that will help you meet your nutritional needs for healthy bones.
High intakes of soft drinks, caffeine and alcohol have been shown to reduce the nutrient availability you need to support long term bone mineral density. Often times excessive intake of these offset regular intake of foods like dairy products, snacks or wholesome meals which are essential in providing your body with energy and the nutrients you need. If you are too reliant on caffeine, soda, or alcohol, consider why you are consuming them on a regular basis? Are you getting enough sleep, managing your stress, understanding the root cause of your cravings? If you are struggling with these, put on your detective cap and do a deeper dive into understanding the why behind these selections for you.
Athlete Risk Factors
Athletes participating in running, cycling, rowing, martial arts, and gymnastics need to be adamant about supporting their bone health through nutrition and weight bearing exercise. While weight bearing exercise is an important part of the healthy bone equation, it only goes so far without adequate nutrition. Those exercising on hot and humid conditions or who are heavy sweaters should have routine blood work done as high rates of sweat can increase your calcium needs due to losses via sweat
Female Risk Factors
If you find that your menstrual cycle is irregular or simply not present, that is a red flag! Amenorrhea (loss of your menstrual cycle) or oligomenorrhea (irregular or inconsistent cycle) greatly increase your risk for low bone mineral density due to reductions in estrogen production. If you have an irregular or absent cycle, I highly recommend being timely about seeking treatment to support your body. This is often a sign that you are under fueling, overtraining, or both and your body is striving to maintain balance. It is prioritizing your brain and your heart while slowing or stopping the functioning of your reproductive system to keep your body in balance. You will commonly see the loss of your cycle as a component of the Female Athlete Triad or Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). Treating this symptom through nutrition and lifestyle protocols to support homeostasis in the body and resumption of a regular cycle will greatly improve your long term health and bone density down the road.
Nutrition and Your Bone Health
Phosphorus and Soda - Beware!
Since phosphorus is found in a variety of foods, deficiencies are uncommon. That being said, too much phosphorus consumption can be harmful to your bone health. This is commonly seen in those who are frequently consuming cola products which contain phosphate. Excessive phosphorus intakes will reduce your serum calcium concentrations, especially when calcium intakes are low due to phosphorus carrying calcium into the soft tissues in your body. Excessive intakes of phosphorus are negatively correlated with bone mineral density of the radius (the thicker of the two bones that make up your forearm). I highly recommend omitting soda from your diet.
High Sugar Intakes
In addition to soda providing excessive amounts of phosphorus, it greatly increases the content of sugar in the diet. High intakes of added sugar (from any food) decreases the pH of your mouth which can cause a net demineralization of your teeth and thus cause dental cavities. While these may not be bones that propel you forward, research does suggest that the health of your teeth and bones are correlated. Practicing good oral hygiene can go a long way. For those who use sports products during longer duration efforts that are high in sugar, be sure to brush your teeth and schedule regular dental check up to be proactive and reduce plaque build up.
For those not able to ensure adequate sun exposure, increasing dietary sources of vitamin D can help. Fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, anchovies, trout and sardines, and fortified foods can help increase the availability in your body. Supplementation can also be of use, especially if you are clinical low based upon your blood work.
Last but not least, calcium is well known for its importance in regulating bone mineral density. The intake of calcium has a strong influx correlation with your risk of developing osteoporosis. Low intakes of calcium is not uncommonly related to overall low caloric intake. In general, you can only absorb about 500 mg in a sitting. I recommend that you spread your calcium intakes out throughout the day.
Recommended daily intakes for calcium:
- 14-18 YO | Female or Male: 1300 mg
- 19-50 YO | Female or Male: 1000 mg
- 51-70 YO
- Female: 1200 mg
- Male: 1000 mg
- 70+ YO | Female or Male: 1200 mg
Foods that contain calcium:
- dairy products (high or low fat, both have similar content)
- fortified milks (almond, coconut, soy, hemp, etc.)
- fish with the bones (sardines, anchovies)
- leafy greens (kale, spinach, bok choy)
- calcium set tofu
Building Better Bone Health
In summary, the keys to better bone health is adequate caloric and nutrient intake, and weight bearing exercise. Focusing on foods rich in calcium and vitamin D while eliminating excess intakes of soda, sugar, caffeine and alcohol will bolster your bone mineral density for life.
If you’ve had issues with sports related fractures, breaks, or are at high risk for bone health issues & want to prolong your athletic career, get in touch to learn more about how I can support you with a custom nutrition plan designed to keep your bones healthy.
- Vitamin D and latitude image
- Karpinski, C., & Rosenbloom, C. (2017). Sports nutrition: A handbook for professionals. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Calcium – Health Sheet for Practicioners. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/