Article by Ruth McKean, Sports Nutritionist

Nutrient Concerns for Vegetarian Athletes


Calcium requirements are highest during childhood and adolescents (with the exception of women who have just had a child). A combination of inadequate calcium intake and amenorrhoea () in young children and young women has raised concerns about osteoporosis. See National Osteoporosis Foundation for more information.

Calcium interferes with the absorption of iron but calcium and iron are both essential nutrients. To overcome this, increase your iron intake to increase the opportunity for uptake. Females who take both an iron and calcium supplement should take the iron supplement with meals (i.e. at breakfast with orange juice to enhance absorption) and avoid calcium supplements with meals (i.e. take these before bed).

Vegetarian foods rich in calcium:

  • Leafy greens such as, spinach and broccoli
  • Milk, cheese, yoghurts
  • Fish - sardines, and canned salmon
  • New calcium-fortified orange juices
  • Fortified bread, breakfast cereals
  • Soyabean curd (tofu) but only if made by calcium carbonate (check food label).

Strategies to meet calcium needs

  • Eat at least 3 servings of dairy foods a day for example milk in cereal, yoghurt, cheese in a sandwich.

  • If you are growing, pregnant or breast feeding increase to 4-5 portions per day.

  • If you do not have regular menstrual cycles you may require extra calcium, seek advice about this from your GP or if available sports medicine doctor

  • If you are a vegan or unable to eat diary products include products such as fortified soya or other fortified products and seek advice about using mineral supplements correctly.

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