Optimal Bone Health in Athletes


Athlete Scenario

I am an 18-year-old, female, long-distance runner. I read that female runners may have weak and fragile bones compared to other athletes. How can I keep my bones strong and healthy and help prevent injury?

Goals for Achieving Optimal Bone Health:

  • Obtain adequate calcium and vitamin D to promote optimal bone density and prevent osteoporosis, a condition of weak and fragile bones.  Consume calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, and leafy greens.
  • Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption. Consume vitamin D-rich foods like eggs, fish (e.g. salmon, trout and sardines), mushrooms, and fortified foods (e.g. milk, margarine, orange juice and bread).
  • Include dairy-free calcium and vitamin D-fortified beverage options (e.g. soy, almond, coconut and rice milk) in your diet.

Strategies for Achieving Optimal Bone Health:

Snack Ideas for Bone Health

  • Fruit smoothie made with yogurt and calcium/vitamin D-fortified orange juice
  • Greek yogurt and almonds
  • Hard boiled eggs and string cheese

Meal Ideas for Bone Health

  • Stir-fry with mushrooms, broccoli and sesame seeds
  • Spinach and egg strata made with margarine and Parmesan cheese
  • Salmon salad sandwich and a glass of milk

Ideas to Maximize Calcium Absorption

  • Spread consumption of calcium-rich food throughout the day
  • Consume vitamin D and calcium-rich foods together
  • Besides getting vitamin D in foods, the body also produces it when exposed to sunlight. Only 5 – 30 minutes per day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. about twice weekly (before applying sunscreen) is necessary to get adequate amounts. High exposure increases the risk of skin cancer.

Tips to Take With You

  1. Include calcium-rich foods, such as low fat chocolate milk, in your post-exercise meal to maximize recovery and bone health.
  2. Include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet and spend short amounts of time out in the sun.
  3. Determine if you are meeting your calcium and vitamin D needs by meeting with a sport’s RD and/or utilizing the ChooseMyPlate SuperTracker at www.choosemyplate.gov/ to track your intake and receive feedback.

Related Topics


Written by SCAN registered dietitians (RDs) to provide nutrition guidance. The key to optimal meal planning is individualization. Contact a SCAN RD for personalized nutrition plans. Access “Find a SCAN RD” at www.scandpg.org or by phone at 800.249.2875.