by Will Grumke April 26, 2021 4 min read
Growing up, many of us were told to drink our milk by our parents, because “it will help you build strong bones.” They said that because milk contains calcium.
But despite this early guidance, most people have only a vague idea of what calcium is, where it comes from, and the role it plays in the human body.
Unfortunately, research suggests that nearly half of Americans simply aren’t getting enough of it. Approximately 40% of the US population suffers from calcium deficiencies in their diets.
That’s areal problem.
So, to better understand why, let’s take a closer look at what calcium does for your body.
What your parents told you about calcium is true: It helps build strong bones ... but that’s only the beginning.
Calcium is an essential mineral, which means that it is a necessary component for many bodily functions. In fact, it is the most abundant mineral in the human body.
Calcium is also an electrolyte, capable of carrying an electric charge when dissolved into the bloodstream and other bodily fluids. Because of this, it can help transmit messages throughout the nervous system.
That said, the majority of calcium in the body is uncharged; more than 99% of the calcium in the human body is found in teeth and bones. It can also be found in blood and soft tissues, including muscles and nerves.
When it comes to building strong skeletal systems, facilitating neural transmission, assisting in blood clotting, and aiding in muscle contraction (including the contractions that allow the heart to pump blood), calcium is absolutely vital.
The body needs large amounts of calcium to remain healthy — approximately 1000 mg/day.
It’s also worth noting that women naturally need more calcium than men, particularly if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Daily recommended calcium amounts are:
• Ages 19-70: at least 1,000 mg/day
• Older than 70: at least 1,200 mg/day
• Ages 19-50: at least 1,000 mg/day
• Older than 50: at least 1,200 mg/day
• Pregnant or breastfeeding: at least 1,300 mg/day
Children also need increased calcium amounts as they grow, particularly during pubertal growth spurts. Adolescents may need as much as 1300 mg/day of calcium for optimal bone health.
The most abundant dietary sources of calcium are dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, but it can also be found in certain seeds, beans, lentils, almonds, leafy greens, and sardines (and other fish with edible bones).
Calcium-fortified foods (such as fortified orange juice or soy milk) can also help ensure sufficient calcium intake, particularly among those with dietary restrictions.
Calcium deficiency disease, also known ashypocalcemia, can lead to a number of dangerous conditions, including osteopenia and osteoporosis.
However, calcium deficiency doesn’t always show itself in such extreme ways.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency can vary from mild to life-threatening ... while minor symptoms may include:
• Numbness or tingling in extremities
• Difficulty swallowing
• Brittle fingernails
• Poor appetite
Additionally, caffeine has been shown to leach calcium from bones, amounting to a loss of about 6 mg of calcium for every 100 mg of caffeine ingested.
Although calcium deficiency isn’t something that’s likely to happen overnight, it’s still important to give your body the calcium it needs every day.
This may be even more true for those who engage in regular strenuous exercise.
As we age, our bone density naturally starts to decline.
That said, regular exercise can slow the rate of bone loss, helping to reduce the risks of experiencing fractures while even helping with preventing osteoporosis.
Consistent workouts that exercise a variety of muscle groups and incorporate strength training help build a protective framework around your bones.
However, extremely strenuous exercise and excessive sweating can actually cause your body to lose calcium via perspiration.
By the way, we’re not only talking about excess calcium you may be storing in your fluids; as you sweat, calcium may actually be redirected from your bones to help replenish lost minerals.
This simply means that while exercise helps strengthen your bones, it may also be depleting your body of the primary micronutrient it relies on for bone health.
In some cases, calcium supplementation may be the best option for you.
Calcium supplements have been shown to help offset this additional calcium loss, but only when taken in the right amounts, at the right time, and when coupled with the right vitamins.
Some experts recommend that you should take an additional 200 mg of calcium for every hour of intense exercise to make up for calcium lost through perspiration.
Note: It’s also suggested that you add an additional 20 mg of calcium for every 4 oz cup of coffee or 12 oz can of caffeinated soda.
Calcium becomes more bioavailable (meaning your body can utilize it better) when taken before exercise, rather than after.
At the same time, the body relies on vitamin D to facilitate calcium absorption.
So, you’ll need to be getting enough vitamin D (either from foods, the sun, or supplements) to ensure that the calcium you take before exercise can be adequately absorbed.
Finally, you should pay close attention to how much calcium you are taking — because when it comes to calcium, more may not always be better.
Taking significantly more than the daily recommended amount of calcium can cause increased strain on kidneys, interfere with brain function, disrupt digestive function, and may even lead to heart problems.
As with any kind of nutritional supplementation, consult with your doctor before you get started.
In many cases, a well-balanced diet will provide even avid workout enthusiasts with the calcium they need to ensure strong bones and healthy bodies for years to come.
But many times for children ... things aren’t always so simple.
If you are a parent who’s concerned about the calcium intake of your children, we can help!
1st Phorm's calcium supplement for children can help ensure that the body’s most vital mineral is always on hand.
NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, NASM VCS Virtual Coaching Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer