Calcium is a very important nutrient. Road cyclists especially should get more calcium – because studies show road cyclists are more likely to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis!

Here’s what you need to know.

Benefits of Calcium for Endurance Athletes

The main purpose of your calcium intake is to build stronger bones. You want to maintain or improve your bone density.

And you don’t need any more reason than that!

Calcium could also increase testosterone for possible performance improvement.

(See study: “Testosterone levels in athletes at rest and exhaustion: effects of calcium supplementation”)

Do Cyclists Need More Calcium?

Let’s get straight to the point: Everyone needs more calcium in their diet, but cyclists really need it.

First thing, cycling isn’t weight bearing (like running is) so you aren’t building much bone density when you ride. Second, you lose milligram after precious milligram of calcium when you sweat. You sweat, don’t you?

I’ve been hearing this fact more often lately, so I’m trying to get extra calcium in my diet. Since it’s been discussed in Bicycling magazine and on sites such as RoadBikeRider.com, you’ve probably heard about it.

There’s a story in the LA Times. “Cyclists at risk for bone loss.”

Summary:

“Although cyclists are known for staying on top of their training heart rate zones and pedal cadence, increasing research suggests they should also pay attention to their risk of thinning bones.”

The picture is bleak. Even athletes as young as their late 20s could be dealing with osteopenia (lower than normal bone density). And cycling isn’t helping:

Many factors contribute to osteopenia or osteoporosis (very low bone mineral density) in cyclists, but one of the culprits is the nature of the exercise itself. Cycling is a low-impact sport that puts little mechanical load on the bones. That’s great if you have joint problems, but it’s the weight-bearing nature of exercise that signals bones to create more mass. Without such stress, bones don’t get stronger, making them more prone to injury.

Various studies back this up.

Given the consequences, I don’t need a whole lot of evidence to convince me to pay more attention to my bone density!

Problems with cycling

There are three main problems:

1. Cycling is non weight bearing.

So it’s not like resistance training, it doesn’t encourage building bone mass.

This is the big one that really separates road cyclists from other endurance athletes. Because running and even mountain biking provide some impacts and stresses that strengthen bones.

2. You lose calcium in your sweat.

You can lose up to 200 milligrams of bone-building calcium in an hour.

3. You’re not well-nourished.

You could be burning too many calories and not have the nutrients to put toward your body building itself up.

This can happen for all endurance athletes but definitely for cyclists.

What’s a cyclist to do?

The answer is to consume calcium.

There is lots of calcium in dairy products. There’s some calcium in vegetables.

There is debate about how useful the calcium from dairy is. But it is mostly agreed that it’s better to get the calcium in your diet vs using supplements.

Also consume magnesium and Vitamin D, which can help you absorb more calcium.

(As recommended in Optimal Muscle Performance and Recovery by Dr. Ed Burke.)

Also, avoid soda.

Here’s a tip that won’t cost you anything – it might even save you money: Forget about soda. Don’t even think about drinking any. It’s full of phosphoric acid, which prevents calcium absorption. Stick with water.

Check your electrolyte drinks.

Did you get one that contains calcium and magnesium?

Do some resistance training.

Weight lifting is great. Plyometrics work too.

Even just jumping rope will help.

And finally, get tested.

Get a DXA scan (a bone density scan).

See where you stand.

Whatever you do, try to get some extra calcium. And do a little weight lifting and/or running to work your bones.

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