Support Your Supporting Structure

May 4th, 2021

By Leslie Bonci, MPH,RDN,CSSD,LDN

As a registered dietitian and sports dietitian who works with active individuals and professional athletes, I am an advocate for food choices and eating patterns that support bone health. Too often, I work with clients who have a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis or who have experienced stress fractures or stress reactions. Being in preventative and proactive mode with behavior that is constructive, not destructive to bones is a must.

So to take care of our bones we need to minimize the bone robbers such as:

  • Being sedentary
  • Drinking alcohol to excess
  • Smoking
  • Crash diets
  • Carrying excess body fat
  • Not consuming enough protein
  • Being under fueled
  • And potentially the keto diet which may have adverse effects on bone health

So what can we do to preserve bone health and be more in build than breakdown mode?

Here are the nutrients that are involved in optimizing bone health.


Bones are composed of several nutrients. To keep your bones healthy, you need much more than calcium. What you eat can help to build and maintain bones, so be sure to include some of the following foods every day. It takes a plate to make bones great.

Protein Bone formation, skeletal muscle strength 0.4-0.9 grams protein/lb BW/d 

Distribute protein evenly across all meals

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, soy foods, legumes, nuts, seeds
Calcium Confers bone strength and structure, skeleton mineralization, bone development and metabolism 14-18: 1300 mg

19-50: 1000 mg

51-70: F 1200 mg, M 1000 mg

71+ 1200 mg

Dairy foods, fish with bones, fortified cereals, fortified juices
Phosphorus Skeletal development and bone integrity 14-18: 1250 mg

19+ 700 mg

Meats, dairy foods, beans
Magnesium Helps the body to better use calcium, improves bone strength 14-18: F 360 mg/M 410 mg

19-30: F 310 mg/M 400 mg

31 + F: 320 mg/M 420 mg

Leafy greens, nuts/seeds, whole grains, tomato products, chocolate
Potassium Maintain acid/alkaline balance

Neutralize acid load and minimize calcium loss from bone. May suppress calcium resorption and bone mineral dissolution

14-18: F 2300 mg/M 3000 mg

19+ 4700 mg/d

Beans, lentils, squash, prunes, beef, poultry potatoes, bananas, kiwi, citrus, tomatoes, dairy
Zinc Important for bone metabolism and mineralization 114-18: F 9 mg/M 11 mg

19+ F 8 mg/M 11 mg

Shellfish, beef, pork, poultry, beans. Pumpkin seeds, fortified cereal, dairy
Manganese Bone development and maintenance 14-18: F 1.6 mg/M 2.2 mg

19+ F: 1.8 mg/M 2.3 mg

Whole grains, nuts, leafy vegetables, prunes, tea, soybeans, oats, rice
Vitamin D Maintain adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal bone mineralization. Involved in bone growth and bone remodeling 14-18: 600 IU

19-70: 600 IU

70+: 800 IU

Dairy foods, some plant milks, fortified cereals, cod liver oil, rainbow trout, sockeye salmon, egg yolk
Vitamin K Necessary for bone formation and mineralization 14-18: 75 mcg

19 + F 90 mcg, M 120 mcg

Leafy greens, cabbage family vegetables, fish, liver, meat, eggs, soy foods esp natto,  prunes, green tea, vegetable oils
Boron Important for bone health and development and the metabolism of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D No established  RDA Prunes/juice, coffee, milk, beans, peanuts, apples, peaches
Vitamin C Necessary for collagen synthesis (collagen is the main protein in bone), may increase bone mineral density 14-18 F: 65 mg, M 75 mg

19-50: F 75 mg, M 90 mg

Citrus fruits and juice, strawberries, peppers, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, cantaloupe
Copper Helps to prevent low  bone mineral density 14-18: 890 mcg

19+ 900 mcg

Beef liver, oysters, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, cashews, crab, tofu , cocoa

In addition to our chews, we need to think about our moves. Bones need daily movement!



  • Build strong bone and achieve peak bone mass
  • Decrease risk of overweight, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • 60 minutes/day
  • Walking, stop and go sports, biking, running, skating
  • Strength exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups


  • To achieve peak bone mass and lean mass
  • To lower the risk of chronic disease
  • To achieve/maintain a healthy body composition
  • For cognitive function
  • 60 minutes/day
  • Aerobic exercise: stop and go sports, endurance exercise
  • Strength exercises: weights, body weight, machines
  • Flexibility: stretching, yoga, Pila

Cardio exercise such as:

  • Brisk walking/hiking
  • Jogging/running
  • Dancing
  • Jumping rope
  • Tennis
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Stair climbing
  • Swimming is not an impact exercise; however, it does positively impact muscle strength, so a combo of swimming + weight training provides the best of both!

Strength training

  • Resistance
    • Isometrics: Own body weight
    • Free weights
    • Machines

Core training/Flexibility

  • Strengthens the spine to provide more support
  • Improves balance
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Pilates


  • Dance
  • Use an iron skillet to cook and do bicep curls
  • Play with your kids/grandkids
  • Off the couch and on the floor- move your bod a little more


Include a bone-building food at every meal and snack

Bone up breakfast by:

  • Adding chopped prunes to your cereal, oatmeal or pancakes
  • Making oatmeal with milk instead of water
  • Swapping cereal to pick one fortified with bone-building micronutrients
  • Making a smoothie with milk, yogurt, fruit and spinach

Bone up Lunch by:

  • Adding canned salmon or sardines to a salad
  • Throwing some beans into a wrap
  • Add ingcanned tomatoes to a vegetable soup
  • Using a chopped potato instead of rice for a bowl or make the potato the base of lunch
  • Throwing prunes into a salad

Bone up Dinner by

  • Adding chopped prunes to Brussel sprouts, or other roasted veggies
  • Tossing pasta with broccoli, ricotta and pesto
  • Adding more produce to the plate with roasted, sauteed, stir-fried or grilled veggies
  • Pureeing cannellini beans and add to a soup or sauce

Snack Hacks

Instead of a bento box, try a bone-to box with: 

  • Cubes of cheese, almonds, prunes, shelled edamame
  • Turkey jerky, roasted chickpeas and prunes
  • Peanut butter, apple slices, Greek yogurt


  • Try a Trail mix with chopped prunes, Cheerios, walnuts


  • Make a smoothie with milk, yogurt, cocoa, nut butter and banana


  • Hummus with bean chips and veggies as the dippers


  • Stuff a cored apple with ricotta and almonds


  • Make a dip with plain Greek yogurt as the base to add more protein


  • Create a bone-building food list
  • Support bone-supporting behaviors
  • Create active lifestyles—tone up and bone up
  • Get out of the medicine cabinet and into the kitchen
  • Use supplements as a complement to, rather than a replacement for food

Leslie Bonci is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics with expertise in sports nutrition, digestive health, and communication. She works with clients and also the industry as well as professional athletes through her companies: Active Eating Advice and Performance365. She is a blogger, author and presenter as well as educator.

Posted by: Talia Follador

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