Sports Nutrition: Calcium

Strong bones support strong athletic performance and calcium plays a major role in good athlete nutrition.


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is needed to build and maintain strong bones. Adequate calcium intake can help prevent osteoporosis and high blood pressure, and is needed for heart, muscle, and nerve function. Both children and adults need adequate intake of calcium and recommendations depend on age and sex.

Stress fractures account for 0.7% to 20% of all sports medicine clinic injuries, therefore athletes should focus on a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and protein. The Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CSPDA) recommends 1000 to 1300 milligrams of calcium per day for athletes. Incorporating three daily servings of dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese will help athletes meet their calcium recommendations.

Food sources of calcium include: 

  • Milk*, yogurt, and cheese
  • Canned sardines and salmon with bones
  • Certain vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage (bok choi)
  • Calcium-fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, fruit juices and soy beverage
  • *Milk is the leading food source of calcium and vitamin D for all Americans over the age of 2.

*Milk is the leading food source of calcium and vitamin D for all Americans over the age of 2.

It’s important to note that if you’re relying on vegetables to meet your calcium needs, you’ll need to eat a lot of them. For example, you would need to eat about 10 cups of raw spinach to get the same amount of calcium in one 8-ounce glass of milk. Plant-based beverages are also sometimes fortified with calcium, but in varying amounts. It’s important to read the label to understand the nutrients in these products.

High calcium meal and snack ideas: 

Related FAQs

Is milk good before a workout?

Pre-workout nutrition is important to prepare the body for working hard and energy expenditure. Carbohydrates provide fuel for exercise and are the main source of energy for muscles. Throughout the day, focus on a varied diet filled with whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. Include high-quality protein at each meal to help repair and build muscles. As you get closer to your workout, focus on foods low in fat and fiber to avoid stomach upset.

During exercise, focus on replacing fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates as needed. Based on the duration of the activity, recommendations will change. Make sure to always have water and fuel on hand.

Dairy is a great choice for exercise recovery. The carbohydrates in milk refuel muscles and replenish energy stores while the high-quality protein repairs and rebuilds muscles. Milk also replaces electrolytes lost in sweat. Learn more about hydration and recovery here. 

Is chocolate milk good for recovery after a workout or endurance activity?

When refueling after a run, your goal is to replenish glycogen stores with carbohydrates and rebuild muscle with protein. Chocolate milk contains an ideal 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein for this purpose. A study found that runners who consumed fat-free chocolate milk after a strenuous run, “ran 23% longer and had a 38% increase in markers of muscle building compared to when they drank a carbohydrate-only sports beverage with the same number of calories.” Chocolate milk also replenishes electrolytes which are important for runners to prevent muscle fatigue and cramping. 

Is milk good for athletes?

Milk packs in 13 essential nutrients in every serving, including, protein, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin D, which contribute to healthy immune function. Milk’s nutrient package make it an affordable and accessible source of fuel for an athlete. 

Is whey protein good for athletes?

Whey protein is a high-quality protein naturally found in dairy. It is a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids (“building blocks”) your body needs and is easy to digest. Whey protein is also one of the best sources of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) including leucine, which has been shown to stimulate muscle synthesis.

Whey is a fast-acting protein that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and arrive at the muscles very quickly. Whey is fast fuel for the muscles. Research shows that whey can help build and repair muscle after workouts. 

How much milk should an athlete drink per day?

Throughout the day, athletes should focus on a varied diet filled with whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy. They should include high-quality protein from animal-sourced foods like dairy at each meal to help repair and build muscles.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three low-fat or fat-free dairy servings in the Healthy U.S. and Healthy Vegetarian patterns, and two to two and a half servings in the Healthy Mediterranean for adults, and three servings for those 9 to 18 years of age.

What nutrients does dairy have?

Dairy is nutrient-rich and its health benefits are supported by a robust body of science that continues to grow. View the individual nutrients for milk, yogurt, and cheese.

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