Female Athlete Focus Part I: Calcium & Vitamin D

Did you know that over half of Canadian women aged 19 and older do not consume an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D? In fact, Health Canada research has identified that calcium and vitamin D are, by some margin, the two nutrients that Canadian women consume the least of in their diet.

What makes this reality even more concerning is the fact that both vitamin D and calcium have been identified as two of the most important micronutrients for individuals involved in sport and physical activity.

What does this mean for the average highly active woman?

It means that is probably time to pay even closer attention to your consumption of foods rich in vitamin D and calcium, both for your general health and physical performance. 

The Unique Importance of Calcium & Vitamin D in Female Athletes

Calcium and vitamin D are well known for their role in bone health and are especially important for athletes because exercise and physical training place additional strain on the bodies physical and biochemical systems. A highly active person engaging in weight bearing activities such as running or any sport involving running, jumping  or bounding( soccer, tennis, basketball, dancing etc) may be at increased risk of bone stress fractures if calcium intake is low. 

This is especially true if calcium intake and caloric intake are both low, or if menstrual dysfunction is present. Putting it plainly, this is something you want to avoid because these injuries will likely result in a rehabilitation of, at minimum, 4-6 weeks.

Vitamin D is a very interesting case, especially for very active Canadians.  Although our bodies can use sunshine to create vitamin D, the opportunities to do this are limited in the Canadian climate. This is especially true if the majority of your athletic activities take place indoors, as is the case with individuals who primarily work out in an indoor setting.  This means that sufficient vitamin D consumption from your diet becomes even more important. 

According to the Dietitians of Canada’s latest report on sport nutrition, there is a growing body of evidence that vitamin D has a specific role in athletic performance. Vitamin D has been associated with preventing injuries, aiding injury recovery and improving muscle function and muscle fibre size. Vitamin D is important for athletes and active people, even beyond its commonly recognized roles in the average person. 

Ensuring Adequacy in your Calcium and vitamin D Intake

My hope is that you now have all the reason you need to strive for greater adequacy in your daily intake of vitamin D and calcium. Let’s now take a closer look at how you can make this happen.

A 19-50 year old Woman needs 600 IU of vitamin D a day

2 Whole Eggs –   75 IU

2.5 oz. of Salmon (canned, cooked or raw) – 200-700 IU 

2.5 oz. of Snapper/Mackerel/Herring/Trout/White Fish/Sardines – 150-400 IU

1 Cup Fortified Soy Milk/Rice Milk/Almond Milk/ Orange Juice – 50-125 IU  

1 Cup of Milk – 100 IU

Bottom Line: If you do not consume fish, it may be challenging, but not impossible, for you to get sufficient vitamin D from your diet without proper planning. 

A 19-50 year old Canadian Woman needs 1000 mg of calcium a day

½ cup of Cooked Leafy greens ( Kale/Spinach/Collards) – 100-150 mg

1 Cup of Milk or fortified Soy Milk/Orange Juice – 300 mg

¾ Cup of Yogurt, Soy Yogurt or Kefir – 200-300 mg

¾ Cup of White , Navy or Baked Beans – 100-125 mg 

¼ Cup of Almonds – 100 mg

1.5 oz. of Cheese – 250-500 mg 

2 Tbsp of Tahini – 125 mg

Bottom Line: If you do not consume dairy, it may be challenging, but not impossible, for you to get sufficient calcium from your diet without proper planning. 

Take Home Message 

I want to reiterate that Canadian women, and especially athletes and active women, should be very wary of their vitamin D and calcium consumption and requirements. In light of the available evidence, one could safely argue that these are the two nutrients of greatest concern for the active Canadian woman. 

My hope is that today’s article has given you both the motivation and the information necessary for you to improve your own calcium and vitamin D status. Doing so will have benefits not only for your athletic performance in the short term, but will be an important part of keeping you healthy for years to come.

Andy De Santis RD MPH

 

A special thanks to the Dietitians of Canada, American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics ( as well as every contributing exercise scientist) for their 2016 sports nutrition report which helped fuel today’s article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *