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Got Calcium?

What You Need, How To Get It

You can feel it in your bones.  You need calcium. 

Calcium is the most common mineral in the human body and one of seven essential nutrients the body needs to constantly replace to perform at its best (the others are iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc). 

Calcium is essential in blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and bone and tooth formation.  In fact, bones and teeth store 99 percent of the body’s calcium (normally two to three pounds) while the remaining one percent is found in blood, muscle and fluid between cells.  It prevents muscle cramps and studies have shown it also is a factor in blood vessel contraction and dilations, which affects blood pressure.

Calcium is probably best known for preventing osteoporosis, or bone loss, as the body ages.  “Calcium comes in several types and body absorbs some types better than others,” said Seth Heldenbrand, Phar.D, and associate professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College for Pharmacy and associate dean of experiential education. 

Depending on one’s age, the recommended daily amount of calcium ranges from 700 to 1,000 mg a day.  All athletes are urged to achieve the recommended intakes, 1,300 mg a day for teenagers and 1,000 mg a day for adults. 

“It is well recorded in medical literature that peak bone (PBM) is established from childhood to early adulthood and is associated with physical activity at this time,” Heldenbrand said.

Given its role in bone formation and muscle and nerve performance, it’s easy to see why calcium is important to athletes in general and, perhaps, marital artists in particular.  After all, as ATA students we are seeking broken boards; not broken bones.

Calcium is especially important for athletes because they lose it and other minerals through perspiration. 

‘Athletes must be aware that calcium is lost through sweating, and that participating in high-impact and weight-bearing exercises requires good skeletal health,” Heldenbrand said.  “The best way to maintain skeletal health is through appropriate dietary intake of calcium.  Calcium supplementation is an acceptable alternative if calcium requirements cannot be met through the diet.”

Heldendbrand said athletes participating in high impact sports (martial arts, basketball or tennis, for example) have higher calcium requirements than average, as do athletes who participate in intense cardiovascular workouts.

“Competitive athletes who exercise extensively multiple times a week also tend to absorb dietary calcium to a lower extent than the normal population,” Heldenbrand said. 

Symptoms of low calcium can include tooth decay, muscle cramps, brittle nails, kidney stones and the aforementioned osteoporosis, which increases the likelihood of fractres, especially in the hip, spine and wrist. 

“Experts agree that proper dietary calcium is the best way to be sure a body has enough calcium for daily functions,” Heldenbrand said.  “Dairy products, like cheese, milk and yogurt are high in calcium and typically provide about 70 percent of the typical dietary intake.” 

Other dietary calcium sources—for those watching calories or needing lactose free options—include kale, broccoli, turnip greens, tofu and any calcium fortified foods like orange juice. Basically, there is no need to overthink it. As a martial artist, if you have a healthy diet to go along with your training, you should not have to worry about calcium loss, Heldenbrand said.

Written by Todd Traub. Originally published in Vol. 21 no. 2 of the ATA World Magazine.

March 05, 2018