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If strong, defined legs top your list of reasons to run – the latest research says it’s what’s underneath that really counts. According to a recent study from the UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research, female runners should pay close attention to bone density in order to avoid injury. Women are encouraged to monitor energy availability, which is defined as the amount of energy consumed during exercise minus the amount expended, divided by lean body mass (muscle and bone added together). Energy availability is crucial because it represents the body’s capacity to perform its functions, including formation of new bone.
Low energy availability may result from not eating enough calories, burning too many during exercise or a combination of the two. Runners, in particular, can suffer from low energy availability simply because they burn so many calories during exercise that it is difficult to replace them efficiently. Stress fractures might surface as a consequence of low energy availability, making it crucial for female runners to pay careful attention to their bone health. In more serious cases the female athlete triad exists (a relationship between low energy availability, menstrual function and bone density), which causes menstrual irregularity or disappearance, leading to serious muscle and bone injury.
Dr. Kirk L. Scofield, sports medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, recommends runners concerned with their bone health consume an adequate level of calcium. The bone-building nutrient can be found in dairy products, canned salmon, kale (3.5 cups of kale salad has as much calcium as a glass of milk!), raw almonds, broccoli, and oatmeal. Scofield further advises calcium absorption is linked to vitamin D consumption and advises runners consider taking a vitamin D supplement on top of eating more calcium to get the biggest bang out of the nutrient-rich foods.