Osteoporosis Prevention for Youth Athletes

Breaking a bone is never fun. For young competitive athletes, time away from their sport can feel devastating and for adults with osteoporosis, breaking a bone could be crippling. Osteoporosis is a disease of decreased bone density, and prevention starts by making bones as strong as possible before the end of puberty when the window of opportunity closes. By age 18, about 90% of peak bone density (the strongest bones will ever be) is reached.

The great news is many aspects of being an athlete contribute to building strong bones. Both weight-bearing activities like running and jumping and resistance training help to stimulate bone growth. In addition to physical activity, proper nutrition that includes calcium and vitamin D is essential for building strong bones. Training outdoors can help in obtaining vitamin D from the sun and dairy foods are a great way to get both vitamin D and calcium. Just one cup of milk provides almost 25% of the recommended daily intake of calcium for teens and with very few foods with naturally occurring vitamin D, fortified milk is a great option to include to get vitamin D in the diet. Plus, dairy foods like milk and yogurt are also a great choice for young athletes since they provide carbohydrates, the main energy source for workouts, and complete protein to build muscle.

Another big piece to the bone health puzzle is optimal daily fueling. Consuming adequate calories from food to support activity and growth supports the hormone functions that regulate bone formation. For females, having a regular menstrual cycle is especially important for bone health since under-fueling and being underweight can put them at higher risk for lower bone mineral density and early osteoporosis.

Young athletes can promote bone health and prevent osteoporosis later in life by taking steps to build strong bones before the end of puberty when the widow of opportunity closes. Fueling properly and staying active are central to prevention. Learn more about bone health here

Abby Forman completed her undergraduate work at Virginia Tech and her dietetic internship and masters at the University of Tennessee. She played sports through high school and lacrosse in college. She enjoys working with people of all ages and activity levels to achieve their personal health goals. As a Board Certified Sports Dietitian, Abby helps athletes and active individuals improve performance through optimal nutrition. She loves using her creativity and art background to make learning about healthy eating enjoyable and easy for all.

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