What is Calcium?
Calcium is an essential mineral which had traditional roles including being a component of bones, involvement in blood clotting, and the operation of the muscular and nervous system. However, more recently, calcium has also been found to potentially increase muscle strength and aid in weight loss by helping to shed fat.
Where is Calcium Found?
Calcium can be found in food such as dairy products and green vegetables.
Calcium is one of the minerals that are sort after by elite and high level athletes. For this reason, and the ones mentioned above, its use is attractive to bodybuilders, athletes, and also for weight loss. Even for the sake of general health, if you're not eating the recommended daily allowance of calcium, supplementation is a good way to ensure your body and bones are getting what they need.
Calcium & Viamin D Benefits for Muscle Strength
Calcium goes hand in hand with vitamin D, as it is needed for the absorption of calcium. Thus, there have been numerous studies looking at supplementing these two compounds on the effect of muscle strength. Doses of >1 g/day calcium, along with vitamin D has been found to increase muscle strength (Bischoff, 2003, Gupta, 2010), possibly by improving the force of muscle contractions. So when it comes to bodybuilding and strength training, calcium supplementation may help with pumping heavier iron. Calcium supplementation appears to be especially important for female bodybuilders, as this is a group particularly prone to being deficient (Kleiner et al, 1990). This in turn may be preventing them from performing at their best.
Calcium Benefits for Fat Loss
For overweight individuals looking to lose a few kilos, it has been recommended that they should take a calcium supplement, even if they are consuming the recommended intake of calcium from food. This is because, as they drop the weight, the strain is taken off their bones, which in turn leads to the loss of bone mineral density. A total calcium intake of 800 mg/day has been found to be effective (Jensen, 2001). Furthermore, an 800 mg/day supplement has been shown to be effective in boosting the reduction of fat mass and hence total weight loss (Zemel, 2004). One study has found that eating a calcium rich breakfast (over 500 mg), people were able to increase their metabolism and fat burning, while also suppressing appetite (Ping-Delfos & Soares, 2011). There are a few hypothesised mechanisms about why this happens. It is possible that calcium reduces the absorption of fat within the gut, or the calcium present in fat cells increases lipolysis or fat burning. The effect of high calcium levels is synergistic to a high protein diet, and both work together to help lose fat. Because of this relationship between calcium and protein, as well as the effects of calcium on fat loss, it may also be helpful for bodybuilders wanting to lose fat and gain/maintain muscle.
Risks of Inadequate Calcium Intake
Stress fractures can occur with long term high impact activities, such as running. This may be an issue, especially with the heavier bodybuilders or larger individuals running to get in some cardio. Low calcium intake is a factor linked to low bone mineral density, and hence, leading to the occurrence of stress fractures (Myburgh et al, 1990). In the same study, the authors found that athletes consuming >800 mg of calcium per day were less likely to develop stress fractures.
Calcium Side Effects
Although calcium is necessary for life and has many benefits, one must take care not to over-do a good thing. Extreme excess use of calcium and vitamin D supplements will result in harmful side effects such as soft tissue mineralisation. However, if you stick to the recommended doses given on the pack, you should be well within the safe zone, even if you already consume a calcium rich diet.
Calcium Recommended Doses and Ingredient Timing
From the above studies, it would be recommended to take around 800 mg/day. Therefore, a supplement containing 300 mg (2 to 3 per day) would be appropriate for such dosages. Calcium can be taken with a meal.
In this writer's opinion, you should look for a calcium supplement containing vitamin D. Many people are vitamin D deficient, and calcium cannot be absorbed without vitamin D. Many bodybuilding supplements contain calcium. These include protein powders, protein bars, antioxidant products, and much more.
Bischoff (2003), Effects of Vitamin D and Calcium Supplementation on Falls: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 18: 343-351.
Jensen et al (2001), Bone mineral changes in obese women during a moderate weight loss with and without calcium supplementation. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 16: 141-147.
Gupta et al (2010), Effect of cholecalciferol and calcium supplementation on muscle strength and energy metabolism in vitamin D-deficient Asian Indians: a randomized, controlled trial. Clinical Endocrinology, 73: 445-451.
Myburgh et al (1990), Low bone density is an etiologic factor for stress fractures in athletes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 113: 754-759
Kleiner et al (1990), Metabolic profiles, diet, and health practices of championship male and female bodybuilders. Journal of American Dietetics Association 90: 962-967
Ping-Delfos & Soares (2011), Diet induced thermogenesis, fat oxidation and food intake following sequential meals: influence of calcium and vitamin D. Clin Nutr, 30: 376-383
Zemel (2004), Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obesity Research, 12: 582-590.