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Where’s the Calcium?

One Mineral You Might Be Missing

If you are like me, working out, lifting weights every week, you most likely eat well. In fact, you probably eat very well. What I’m about to tell you might surprise you.  Did you know that bodybuilders’ vitamin and mineral intakes actually exceed the recommended dietary allowances (if you follow those), except for one nutrient?

It turns out, many of us are deficient in calcium. But why? Primarily because bodybuilders associate dairy products with water retention and fat. And since both of these are equated to a lack of definition, dairy products are often avoided, and the result is a dietary deficiency of calcium.

The real question is, should you be concerned about that? Probably. Our bodies don’t produce calcium, so we have to rely on diet to get the calcium we need. Among calcium’s many functions (which also include building and maintaining bones and teeth, promoting nerve-impulse transmission, helping blood clot and regulating blood pressure) is its ability to aid in muscle contraction. Also, the biochemical process causes the proteins myosin and actin to be drawn together, and that produces muscle tension and contractile force. This fact alone is quite important to lifters in the quest to gain strength and size. Not to mention the muscle contraction and electrical charge produced against the bone protects the body from bone loss.

So how do we balance our aversion to fat and the desire to stay healthy with strong bones? The easiest way is to include dairy in the diet. You can incorporate the fat-free dairy, like nonfat cottage cheese and nonfat unsweetened Greek yogurt, if you are concerned about fat content; it still contains the same amount of calcium. But those who won’t for various reasons, including lactose intolerance, may still reach their calcium needs in other ways. To accumulate an RDA of 1000 mg./day try some of the following:

1 cup of broccoli, cooked = 180 mg of calcium

1 cup of spinach, cooked = 240 mg

1 cup of kale, raw i= 55 mg, and

1 cup of turnip greens, raw = 80mg.

1 cup acorn squash, cooked = 90 mg.

1 cup arugula, raw = 125 mg.

1 cup figs, dried uncooked = 300 mg.

1 cup kiwi, raw = 50 mg.

1 oz. Almonds, toasted, unblanched = 80 mg.

¼ cup Blanched Slivered Almonds = 70 mg.

1 oz. Sesame seeds, whole roasted = 280 mg.

2 Tbsp. Sesame Tahini = 130 mg.

1 oz. Sunflower seeds, dried = 50 mg.

3 oz. Mackerel, canned = 250 mg.

3 oz. Salmon, canned w/bones = 170-210 mg.

3 oz. Sardines = 370 mg.

1 Tbsp. Molasses, blackstrap = 135 mg.

½ cup Amaranth, cooked = 135 mg.

1 pkg. Oatmeal, instant = 100-150 mg.

½ cup White Beans, cooked = 70 mg.

½ cup Soybeans, boiled = 100 mg.

1 cup Garbanzo Beans, cooked. = 80 mg.

2 cup Pinto Beans, cooked = 75 mg.

4 oz. Tofu, firm, calcium set = 250-750 mg.

4 oz. Tofu, soft regular = 120-390 mg.

Note: The calcium content is much higher in individual dairy products, and more highly absorbable, than most of the items listed above. However, with some careful planning, it is still possible to reach the desired intake.  I did not include “fortified” cereals, breads, and juices in my list, as it is probably better to take a calcium supplement and consume less sugary and starchy foods.  I am also not a fan of soy products to reach that calcium requirement, as soy has been shown to have an estrogen-producing effect. 

If you choose the calcium supplement route, you may need to take them with vitamin D3. This is necessary to absorb calcium. It helps the bones utilize calcium more effectively, and research shows that vitamin D3 is more important for maintaining bone health for this reason. Remember, before you take any supplements it is always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications.

As a final thought, it is important to note that a diet high in phytic acid (found in whole grains) and sodium, as well as excessive consumption of coffee and tea, will interfere with calcium absorption. Smoking also interferes with the absorption of calcium in the intestines, leading to bone loss, so please, STOP SMOKING!

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