by Kelly Wolf
Did you know that your bones are constantly remodeling? Bones are constantly undergoing the processes of bone resorption by osteoclasts (cells that break down previously deposited bone) and bone formation by osteoblasts (cells that build bone). They are far from the static skeleton decoration for Halloween. In a healthy body, bone formation outweighs bone resorption, reaching peak bone mass around age 30. After this, bones can be more subject to break down, resulting in osteoporosis and/or bone fractures at advanced ages. Stress fractures are a common injury in runners of all ages, when load stress overcomes bone formation. The proper balance between building and breakdown is key to long term bone health.
Fortunately for us, since bones are dynamic, there is much we can do in the way of diet and lifestyle to keep our bones strong, dense, and resilient through running and aging. If you are recovering from a bone injury, struggling with serial stress fractures, running into the ages, or desire to keep your bone density up for the long run, this blog post will provide you with important nutrients, foods, and a go-to recipe with your best bones in mind!
When we think of strong bones, calcium is commonly the mineral in the spotlight. Calcium alone though cannot create strong bones and banking on calcium supplements does not work in preventing osteoporosis or fractures.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in bones and works with a symphony of other nutrients, all necessary to proper bone remodeling. For instance, Vitamin D from both our diet and sunlight on the skin stimulates calcium absorption from food in the intestines. Magnesium is needed for the absorption and metabolism of Vitamin D and also moves calcium from the blood to the bone. Boron is required to synthesize Vitamin D into its most potent form and decreases calcium lost through urine. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin, the mineralization protein which anchors calcium to the bone matrix. Phosphorus is also necessary for bone mineralization. Healthy fats are essential for these processes since Vitamin D and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Zinc is required for proper osteoblast and osteoclast formation and function. Vitamin C stimulates the formation of collagen, the foundational matrix of bone. Adequate levels of protein of course are necessary to bone building and structure.
Seeing how all these nutrients work in harmony with the necessity of each other, eating a real food diet is the sure-fire way to get all of these vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients into your body in an ideal balance. Eating the rainbow of diversity is an excellent way to get the wide array of nutrients required. As runners, we know that our bodies require basically more of everything, since every day we physically stress ourselves in order to build back stronger. Running is very taxing on our bones as a weight bearing exercise, though it is also one of the best things we can do for our bones since it requires them to build back stronger. A wonderful compliment to running, resistance exercise is perhaps the most optimal stimulation for osteogenesis (bone formation). The mechanical loading of stress greater than daily living activities is necessary for bone mass accretion and is demonstrated in the site-specific density of bones engaged. Incorporating two progressive strength sessions a week into your training plan is the real bone-bolstering supplement you need!
To do all of this, the body must have the crucial building blocks, and enough of them, for repair while also protecting against the natural cycles of bone degradation that come with age.
Below is a chart with key bone building nutrients and some powerful foods to go along with them. Print this out and try integrating foods from each category into your routine!
Bone Bolstering Recipe: Roman Tahini Kale Salad
This tahini dressing can dress up any salad, but when paired with massaged kale and sardines, it feels like a natural combination, harkening Caesar salad vibes only made with real food ingredients in your kitchen! Not to mention that tahini, kale, and sardines are all mega sources of calcium and other important bone building nutrients. A heaping serving of this salad covers a huge portion of you calcium needs for the entire day: two tablespoons of tahini contains 120mg, 2 cups of kale contains over 250mg, and 3oz of drained sardines contains 325mg. Your Recommended Daily Value of calcium is 1000mg so making this a staple meal is a terrific nutrient boost. Remember that the high levels of Vitamin K in Kale help anchor calcium to the bone matrix! Make this salad for your friends and they will be fooled by the leveled up Roman (not Caesar) Salad!
Sardines with the bones included are an excellent source of calcium and protein. Yes, bones IN (thats where the calcium comes from). They are small and when pieced into this salad you won’t even notice them. One tin of sardines also covers an enormous 70% of your Vitamin D daily requirement. For alternative protein sources, this salad works perfectly tofu (raw or sautéed) or toasted chickpeas, also great calcium sources.
1/4 c tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tbs water, more if needed to thin
Pinch of salt
Pinch of Black pepper
Shakes of garlic powder or 2 fresh minced garlic cloves
1 tbs olive oil, optional
1 bundle organic Dino kale
1-2 tin sardines with bone in, packed in water or olive oil, unsalted
1/4 c raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cucumber sliced
2 celery sticks, chopped
Raw parmesan, grated, optional
Remove kale greens from stalk and place in large salad bowl of water to clean and crisp up the leaves. Prepare the dressing by mixing all ingredients together in a small vessel. The acid in the lemon is key to mix the fat and water. Two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar is a suitable substitute if you don’t have a lemon on hand. Heat a cast iron skillet on the stove on medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds, shaking the pan occasionally for a stir, and cook until they get a toasty color. Chop cucumber and celery. Strain and dry kale. Chop and add to salad bowl. Give it a slight massage with your hands to break it down. Add the other veggies, pumpkin seeds, and dressing. Drain water from sardines. If oil packed add the oil to the salad! Piece sardines into bite size pieces and add to salad. Toss to thoroughly coat and serve!