Updated: Nov 21, 2020
THE BODY HACK SERIES:
Body Hack #1: How to look after your joints
Body Hack #2: Recipe for strong bones (this article)
Body Hack #3: How to keep your muscles happy
Body Hack #4: How to avoid tendon pain
You’re making a mistake if you think that “brittle bones” or poor bone health is something only older people have to worry about. Athletes of all ages can suffer stress fractures and I’ve seen several patients through the years who have been diagnosed with poor bone density before the age of fifty.
The advice in this article is vitally important for children as well as adults. Research has shown that kids who have optimal bone health grow into adults with strong bones.
So how do you ensure that you have strong bones? There are 4 main ingredients to this recipe:
Minerals: Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus
Eat enough food
I also discussed this topic in my Facebook group.
I do like to go on about Vitamin D, but it’s because it plays such an important role in so many aspects of our health. It’s been shown to not only affect bone health but also muscle function, heart function, your immune system and chronic inflammation, to name but a few.
Vitamin D is produced in our skin when the UV rays of the sun shines on it. You need Vitamin D in order to absorb Calcium and Phosphorus (the main building blocks for bone) from your gut.
Alarmingly, the research in recent years have shown that a large proportion of us seem to be running low when it comes to this important vitamin. Researchers think that due to a combination of factors including spending more time indoors and using sunblock when we’re outside. Also, in countries that are located far away from the equator (like the UK), the UV rays are not strong enough during the winter months to produce enough Vitamin D.
Top tip: Make sure that you take a Vitamin D supplement if you’re not able to get at least 15minutes of strong sunshine a day. You can read more about how much Vitamin D you should take in this blog post.
Minerals: Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus
Most of you may know that Calcium is needed to build strong bones, but Magnesium and Phosphorus are also important.
You can check the nutrient content of different food sources on the USDA website. It seems that dairy products contain significantly more of these 3 minerals than any other type of food, but lots of fruit and veg (kale, carrots, potatoes, spinach, fortified orange juice etc.) also contain it to a lesser extent.
Top tip: Look at your diet. Are you getting enough Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus?
Eat enough food
This may sound like a strange comment, but let me explain. Research has shown that people who constantly under-eat or starve themselves develop poor bone health over time. I’m not talking about cutting out rubbish food so that you can weigh your ideal healthy weight. I’m talking about eating less calories than what your body needs to survive and doing this over a long period of time.
You may fall into this category if you have an eating disorder e.g. anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Athletes in certain sports e.g. cycling, endurance running or horse racing may also chronically under-eat because they can potentially perform better if they weigh less.
What the research is showing is that this type of behaviour predisposes athletes to developing stress fractures. In the ordinary population it can lead to osteoporosis which means that you may be at higher risk of breaking your bones.
Top tip: If you suspect that you may not be getting enough energy from your diet, find a dietitian or sports nutritionist to help you achieve your goals.
Weight bearing activities that jolt your bones e.g. walking, running, tennis etc. stimulate your bones to grow stronger. Research has shown that people of all ages who take part in impact activities tend to have stronger bones than their sedentary contemporaries or people who do non-weight bearing exercise e.g. swimming.
Injury may be preventing you from doing ordinary impact sport, but you can also gain some benefit from other activities e.g. weight training. As mentioned, swimming may not be the best for building bones but research has shown that swimmers still have better bones than sedentary people. You can read more about the bone building benefit of different activities in this article about osteoporosis.
Top tip: Speak with your physiotherapist if you have an injury and is struggling to find exercise that works for you. A clued-up physio should be able to devise an exercise plan that does not affect your injury.
Let me know if you have any questions. Remember you can also join my Facebook Group to watch livestreams on various injury prevention and treatment topics as well as ask you own injury related questions.
Close GL, Russell J, Cobley JN, et al. Assessment of vitamin D concentration in non-supplemented professional athletes and healthy adults during the winter months in the UK: implications for skeletal muscle function. Journal of sports sciences 2013;31(4):344-53.
Gómez-Bruton, Alejandro, et al. “Is bone tissue really affected by swimming? A systematic review.” PLoS One 8.8 (2013): e70119.
Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 2018;28(2):104-25.
Owens DJ, Allison R, Close GL. Vitamin D and the athlete: current perspectives and new challenges. Sports Med 2018:1-14.
Tenforde AS, Nattiv A, Ackerman K, et al. Optimising bone health in the young male athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51(3):148-49. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097000
Zanker CL, Swaine IL. Responses of bone turnover markers to repeated endurance running in humans under conditions of energy balance or energy restriction. Eur J Appl Physiol 2000;83(4):434-40.