Calcium Levels for Runners: a dairy-free example of meeting the calcium RDI

 In Running

calcium levels

Calcium levels need to be kept high for distance runners. This is because calcium is lost in sweat, and runners sweat a lot.

Calcium levels are required to be maintained throughout the lifespan so as to prevent or manage osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals such as calcium faster than the body can replace them, causing a loss of bone density.

Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because oestrogen levels drop rapidly during menopause. When this occurs, bones lose calcium and associated minerals, with bone being lost at a rate of approximately 2 percent per year for the immediate years following menopause.

Known risk  factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • A family history
  • Low calcium intake
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Chronic diseases (thyroid conditions, coeliac disease, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Medication use (corticosteroids)
  • Early menopause
  • Lifestyle factors (smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption)

While a lack of exercise is not a likely risk factor for a distance runner, a diet that provides adequate calcium intake is important.

There is a misconception that because a runner runs their bones will be ‘strong’  (from the impact loading). However this is incorrect, in that distance running has been shown to at best maintain bone mass or delay the expected rate of loss of the hips and pelvis, rather than ‘build’ bone mass (1).

Calcium Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)

Adults need to have an intake of 1,000 mg calcium (recommended daily intake, RDI). This should increase to 1,300mg for women over 50yrs of age, and men over 70yrs.

Calcium supplements have not been found to be effective in reducing osteoporosis (2).

Dairy-free calcium intake

We all tend to know that good sources of calcium are dairy foods. However what do you do when you are dairy-free?

For those who are dairy free runners, I hope that by sharing my daily plan for my intake of dairy-free derived calcium that this can help you.

Here is an example of how I will aim  to get my 1,000mg of recommended calcium intake per day through my dairy free diet*:

  1. Banana smoothie with 237mls fortified soy milk (300mg calcium) 30% RDI
  2. Snacks through the day:
    • Nuts 22 almonds (8mg) 8% RDI
    • Figs (1 ounce) 5% RDI
    • Poppy  seeds ( 9gms, 1 tablespoon) 13% RDI
  3. Lunch: 1 tin canned sardines (92gms)  35%RDI
  4. Dinner: tofu (prepared with calcium) half a cup 86% RDI

As you can see the above totals way above 100% of the RDI of calcium (177%) or in other terms 1,770gms.

Obviously on any given day I can miss out on any of the listed foods above, or have them in varied amounts, and I will come in close or above 1,000mg calcium per day.

Some other good sources of daily caclium (dairy and non dairy can be found) below:

*All referenced RDI % sourced from Top 15 calcium rich foods (many non-dairy) HERE>>

Physio With a Finish Line®,

Brad Beer (APAM)

Physiotherapist (APAM)
Author ‘You CAN Run Pain Free!
Founder POGO Physio
Host The Physical Performance Show

Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog


  1. Robert et al. Maintenance of bone mineral density in older male runners. HERE>>
  2. Dr P. Brukner (2018). A Fat Lot of Good.


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