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Jun 24, 2020 / Sports Medicine

Strong Bones for the Young Athlete

What Builds Strong Bones?
Calcium and vitamin D are two essential nutrients that work together and are critical for strong bones.
  • Calcium plays an essential role in bone development.
  • Vitamin D is a key nutrient that allows the body to use the calcium.
Eating the right amount of calcium and vitamin D on a daily basis is essential. This is especially important during the teen years because bones are growing at a rapid rate.

Daily Recommendations for Bone Development
Age in Years Calcium Vitamin D
4 - 8  1,000 mg/day 600 IU/day
9 - 13 1,300 mg/day 600 IU/day
14 - 18 1,300 mg/day 600 IU/day


What are food sources of calcium?
Dairy Sources
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
Non-Dairy Sources
  • Canned salmon
  • Calcium-fortified tofu or beverages (orange juice, almond milk)
  • Broccoli and leafy greens (kale, bok choy, collard greens)
  • Chia and sesame seeds
  • Almonds
  • White beans
  • Figs
Ideas for eating and drinking more calcium:
  • Make oatmeal with milk or a calcium-fortified milk substitute
  • Make a fruit smoothie with milk or yogurt
  • Add cheese to eggs and sandwiches
  • Drink a glass of milk or chocolate milk with meals or as an after-practice snack
  • Pack string cheese for snacks
  • Include a yogurt parfait for breakfast or as an after-dinner snack
  • Top a baked potato with steamed broccoli, shredded cheese and/or plain yogurt
  • Add cooked calcium-rich greens (bok choy, kale, or collard greens) to meals
  • Snack on cooked soybeans or dried figs or even toss them over salads
  • Make a breakfast shake with a calcium-fortified beverage and include fruit and greens
  • Add chia seeds to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies and salads

Vitamin D

What are food sources of vitamin D?
  • Egg yolks
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Shrimp
Fortified foods such as:
  • Milk Substitutes
  • Orange Juice
  • Yogurt
  • Ready to eat Cereal
Ideas for Eating more Vitamin D:
  • Include whole eggs at breakfast, mix in salads or eat hardboiled as a snack
  • Drink vitamin D fortified milk or milk substitute
  • Include vitamin D fortified orange juice with breakfast or in a smoothie
  • Include salmon or grilled tuna with sides, flaked over a hearty salad or made into a sandwich
Who is at risk of weak bones?
Adolescence is an important time that lays the foundation for building strong bones. Those at an increased risk of weak bones and bone injuries include:
  • Athletes that are not meeting their daily calorie and nutrient needs for bone development, due to:
    • higher calorie needs related to frequency and duration of training and competition
    • food allergy, intolerance or dislike of dairy products
    • picky eating habits that eliminate green vegetables, seeds and other calcium rich foods listed above
  • Female athletes who participate in endurance or high-intensity sports with irregular menstrual cycles
  • Athletes in indoor sports with limited exposure to the sun
Those athletes experiencing bone stress injuries may need even more calcium and vitamin D. Speak with your doctor and registered sports dietitian if you have concerns.

For more information, download our Strong Bones PDF (English / Spanish). 

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