The muscle and skeletal systems are important independently, but together they are even stronger.
Supporting muscle and bone health is essential to keeping these systems in good working order. By incorporating key nutrients into your daily routine you can ensure you have all the building blocks required. It is important to recognize that no single nutrient creates strong bones or healthy muscles, and the benefit comes from the synergistic properties of the combination of nutrients plus their cofactors.
Let's take a look at the key players for musculoskeletal health.
With over 99% stored in the bones and teeth, calcium is widely known for its essential role in bone health. It is also required for many other functions including helping blood clot, heart muscles to pump, nerve impulses and other muscles to constrict and contract. Calcium reserves in the bone can be released into the body and used as needed. This continuous process of breaking down and rebuilding bones requires calcium, and since the body can't produce this mineral on its own, incorporating calcium rich foods daily is essential.
When your body doesn't get enough calcium, it can use the reserves stored in bones to perform essential functions, which can weaken over time if not replenished. Adults need about 1,000 mg daily obtainable from a wide range of foods. Dairy products are often named as the best sources of calcium, however as cows milk shows up as the most common food sensitivity worldwide - opting for a goat or sheep milk alternative is recommended.
Other rich dietary sources include sardines and salmon (bones in) and shrimp, but you can get just as much if not more from a variety of plant foods including dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, bok choy, chia seeds, figs and oranges. Just one cup of collard greens contains almost double the calcium than 4oz of cow's milk, with tofu ranked as the leading food source.
Magnesium is another key nutrient that supports healthy bones and muscles. It helps muscles relax, and if you don't get enough of it, you could experience muscle cramps or spasms. Magnesium is required for calcium absorption and alongside Vitamin K, it also helps prevent it from building up in the arteries, which can lead to serious health issues over time. As calcium and magnesium rely on each other, taking a high quality supplement that pairs these essential minerals together in their optimal ratio can be beneficial.
With the link to calcium absorption, we can understand why research has shown that magnesium may prevent frailty, falls and fractures. Adequate magnesium also showed improved grip strength, skeletal muscle and bone health. Pumpkin seeds and dark leafy greens including spinach and swiss chard are three of the top sources, but it also found in good amounts in a wide range of plant foods like legumes and beans, vegetables, various seeds and nuts and grains.
Vitamin D is another cofactor required for calcium absorption and essential to bone health. Insufficient levels can lead to bone loss over time, you can also experience muscle pain and cramps, impaired immunity, mood changes and low energy. Our bodies make the active form of vitamin D in the skin but only when exposed to sunlight. If you aren't getting in the sun for around 20 minutes each day and maintaining a tan all year long, supplementing with a top quality, highly absorbable form of this powerful vitamin is widely recommended.
Most people need 35 international units (iu) of vitamin D per pound of body weight, which for the average adult is about 4000-5000iu per day. There are only a few dietary sources that contain vitamin D and why it is fortified in certain foods. Wholefoods are always the top recommendation and the richest sources include salmon, sardines, pasture eggs and mushrooms. If you feel you aren't getting enough from diet alone, a vitamin D supplement has widespread benefits.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and responsible for healthy joints and skin elasticity. It is found in bones, muscles and all other connective tissues, providing structure and support and can help prevent injury and pain. Collagen helps build and maintain muscle mass, which is vital throughout life. There is a natural decline in both the production and quality of collagen as we age, which can lead to a decrease in muscle and weaker bones.
Collagen is an animal protein and not 100% replicable from plant-based alternatives. By incorporating foods that contain the building blocks of collagen you can help increase natural production, especially if you are vegan or vegetarian. Top dietary sources include eggs, poultry, fish and shellfish. Citrus and berries are rich in collagen building vitamin C, plus other brightly colored vegetables, garlic, various nuts and seeds, and dark leafy greens all provide a good dose of the nutrients used to boost internal production. As collagen makes up so many critical parts of the body you may want to consider supplementing your dietary intake with this essential protein.
It is likely that this trace mineral may not be as familiar as the others discussed, but is no less important with its super-nutrient properties in muscle and bone health. Boron helps with the absorption of key minerals including calcium and magnesium, clearly recognized for their role in creating strong bones, it helps balance pH and is also important for muscle tissue maintenance. Food sources include avocado, berries, beans and legumes, sweet potato, squash and oranges.
Undeniably a wholefood diet with a variety of fresh produce, healthy fats and protein is the foundation to maintaining musculoskeletal health. Poor soil quality with low levels of minerals can be a reason why adequate levels are difficult to obtain through diet alone. This is where using an activated multi-vitaminor adding an all-in-one-powder to your favorite smoothie is a great way to optimize your daily intake of all the nutrients you need.