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Bone Builders - Make or Break

Adolescence is a period of rapid bone growth and development for young athletes, with around 75-80% of their lifetime bone mass developed by the age of 18. By their late 20’s they will have reached their peak bone mass and their bones will be as strong as they’ll ever be. This time is critical to young athletes to ensure proper bone growth and mineralisation and reduce the risks of injuries and fractures, not only during their athletic career, but in later life as well.

We take a look at three key micronutrients in the diet that are essential for healthy bone growth and injury reduction.

Injured player 


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is essential for bone health and muscle contraction. Both of which are incredibly important to youth athletes! The bones act as a reservoir for calcium and if insufficient calcium is consumed from the diet, its removed from the bones to meet the body’s needs. Bones are constantly broken down and rebuilt and calcium levels in the diet must be high enough to ensure more bone is being made than what is being broken down[1].

Good food sources of calcium include[2]:

  • milk, cheese and other dairy foods
  • green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach
  • soya beans
  • tofu
  • nuts
  • dairy alternative drinks with added calcium
  • bread and anything made with fortified flour


Vitamin D

Along with calcium and phosphorous, vitamin D is essential for strong bones. It is made by the body when exposed to sunlight, meaning that none can be made during the winter months or in athletes who spend a lot of time training indoors. Because of this, deficiencies are highly common in teenagers. Too little vitamin D in the body reduces calcium absorption by the bones, ultimately leading to weaker bones, increased risk of fracture and the potential of osteoporosis in later life.

Youth athletes should focus on meeting their vitamin D requirements from food sources such as[3]:

  • Oily fish like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods – such as most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals
  • Dietary supplements.



Phosphorus is another micronutrient essential to a youth athletes’ diet. Not only is it a key mineral in building strong bones, but it also plays an essential role in releasing energy from food[4]. Similar to the other micronutrients, low levels of phosphorus in the diet can result in bone mineralisation defects, negatively effecting both athletic performance and overall health.

Good food sources include[5]:

  • red meat
  • dairy foods
  • fish
  • poultry
  • bread
  • brown rice
  • oats

 Brown rice


  1. National Institute of Health. (2018). Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.[online] Available at:
  2. uk. (2019). Vitamins and minerals. Calcium. [online] Available at:
  3. uk. (2019). Vitamins and minerals. Vitamin D. [online] Available at:
  4. Palacios, C. (2007) ‘The Role of Nutrients in Bone Health, from A to Z’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 8, pp. 621-628
  5. uk. (2019). Vitamins and minerals. Others. [online] Available at:

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