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Strong bones are a female athlete’s best friend. A solid foundation spells lower risk of injury and improved health as we age. As a weight-bearing exercise, running is an excellent way to maintain sturdy bones. But in spite of running’s reputation as a proven bone-builder, women runners often experience low bone density, which can result in stress fractures and osteoporosis. Why the paradox? The answer is hiding in your fridge.
Proper nutrition is the key to skeletal health, and many women runners fail to adequately fuel. To keep your structure sturdy, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy diet, chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Follow these simple guidelines to keep brittle bones at bay.
Take (All) Your Vitamins
Calcium and vitamin D are well-known heavy hitters for bone maintenance. While it’s important to focus on these two nutrients, we often disregard other essentials that work together to keep bones strong. Don’t overlook these unsung heroes:
MAGNESIUM: The second most abundant mineral in your skeleton after calcium, magnesium helps strengthen the bony matrix.
VITAMIN K: This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for bone health. The intestinal tract normally creates adequate vitamin K, but antibiotics and digestive diseases can impair K levels, making dietary sources of the nutrient necessary.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: A nutrient that’s scarce in the standard American diet, studies have shown that higher levels of omega-3 fats in the blood correlate with greater bone mineral density.
Focus on Food
The best way to absorb proper nutrients is through whole foods. Write these items on your grocery list to keep your hips, knees and ankles happy.
DAIRY PRODUCTS: The long-lauded go-to, dairy is still considered one of the best sources of the bone-building trifecta: calcium, vitamin D and magnesium.
Eat this: Mix together fresh berries and organic yogurt for a perfect post-run snack.
LEAFY GREENS: Greens are an excellent source of vitamin K, magnesium and calcium. Shake up your romaine routine by including kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts in your diet.
Drink this: Sneak leafy greens into smoothies. Try adding baby spinach to your next healthy shake. You’ll get all the goodness with none of the grassy taste!
NUTS & SEEDS: All excellent sources of magnesium, walnuts, flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds contain the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.
Eat this: Sprinkle chopped walnuts or seeds on your oatmeal for a satisfying crunch.
BEANS: In addition to being an excellent source of protein (which contributes to bone structure), beans are loaded with magnesium and calcium. Soybeans and tofu are also high in these bone-boosters.
Eat this: Puree soybeans with one garlic clove and a bit of olive oil for a tasty dip.
DRIED FRUITS: Studies have shown that compounds in dried fruit enhance the body’s ability to mineralize and build bone while preventing breakdown.
Eat this: Add dried figs, prunes or raisins to a salad for a sweet-and-savory lunch.
FISH: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines is a great way to add vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Canned sardines and salmon are an excellent source of calcium if you don’t mind chewing on the soft bones.
Eat this: Top your favorite pasta dish with fatty fish for a filling, balanced meal.
TEA: Research has found that regular tea drinkers have higher bone mineral density due to the fluoride, flavanoids and phytoestrogens found in most brews.
Drink this: Make double-strength hot tea and then pour over ice for a refreshing drink without the wait.
FORTIFIED FOODS: There are many foods on the market that contain added calcium and vitamin D. Whole grain cereals, orange juice and non-dairy milks are all healthy and convenient choices.
Read this: Check labels to be sure the brands you buy contain the nutrients you need.
The challenges of bone health may seem a bit overwhelming, but the payoff is so worth it. After all, no other running equipment is as important as the health of your bones.
Honey Mustard Salmon Salad
The perfect blend of bone-enhancing nutrients: calcium from the greens, dressing and cheese, as well as vitamin D and omega-3 fats from the salmon.
2 cups organic greens
¼ cup shredded carrots
2 Tbsp. chopped walnuts
2 oz. canned salmon
2 Tbsp. honey mustard dressing
2 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese
Tear the leaves of the greens into bite-sized pieces and mix in a medium-sized bowl with the shredded carrots and chopped walnuts. Rinse the canned salmon in water to remove any extra salt and flake the fish on top of the salad. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to coat. Sprinkle with Parmesan and enjoy.
Nutritional info per serving:
367 calories, 18g protein, 27g fat (5 g saturated), 14g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 375mg sodium
This dairy-free smoothie provides loads of calcium and vitamin D teamed with the omega-3s from the flax seeds and magnesium and vitamin K from the spinach.
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
½ cup fortified soy milk
½ cup fortified orange juice
¼ cup chopped spinach
¼ cup frozen pineapple
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Grind flax seeds in a coffee grinder. Combine all ingredients in blender and mix until smooth.
Nutritional info per serving: 165 calories, 4g protein, 6g fat (0g saturated),
23g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 96mg sodium
Photo by Juicy Images
Recipe photography by unionhouse