Jump to main content


Eat Well, Feel Well: The Role Of Vitamin D And Calcium In Bone Health

Eat Well, Feel Well: The Role Of Vitamin D And Calcium In Bone Health

John Cooney celebrates during Ireland's Six Nations win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. ©INPHO/Gary Carr

Eating well to feel well is paramount at the best of times, but even more so now as we all navigate our way through challenging and unprecedented periods. Nutrition is important not just to stay physically healthy but also for your mental health, energy and overall mood and in the sixth part of our video series from the team of IRFU Performance Nutritionists, we explore the topic of bone health with Gavin Rackard, Performance Nutritionist with Connacht Rugby.

Bone Health – Gavin Rackard, Performance Nutritionist with Connacht Rugby

Both nutrients – Vitamin D and calcium – play a pivotal role in bone formation and bone remodelling.

There is a plethora of research over years to back this up; Young men working in the Finnish military, the TILDA report on Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland (2020), a review of the role that Vitamin D and calcium play in reducing stress fractures in young athletes and the effect of calcium and Vitamin D on the bone health of male jockeys.

These studies, and many more, endorse the proposition that both Vitamin D and calcium, separately and together, have a fundamental role for bone mineral density and reducing stress fractures in early life, in later life and in athletes. Vitamin D helps with the up regulation of calcium, increasing from 10-15% to about 40%.

Calcium is an essential mineral that we cannot produce ourselves, so it is critical to get calcium through the food we eat. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is in both our bones and teeth. Along with bone health it also helps with blood clotting.

To meet your calcium requirements, you should aim for 1000mg or three servings per day. This is possible through 200g of yogurt, 30g cheddar cheese and 300ml of milk according to the Safefood.eu Healthy Eating Food Pyramid.

Similarly, some green vegetables, soy beans, fortified soy milk and cereal can also add to your calcium intake. For those that are lactose intolerant some of the latter sources are necessary along with possible supplementation.

Your skin makes Vitamin D in reaction to sunlight and stores it in fat for later use. To meet your Vitamin D requirements, you should aim for anywhere between 400IU – 2000IU per day. This equates to 10-15  minutes of direct sunlight between the hours of 12pm and 4pm each day.

Due to Ireland’s far latitude geographical location this type of Vitamin D synthesis is only relevant during late March to early September. However, even during some summer months, the amount of Vitamin D that can be made is affected by age, skin cream, clothing and cloud cover.

Foods such as oily fish (fresh or tinned), eggs along with cereals and dairy products fortified with Vitamin D can also increase your amount. Consistent intake of these Vitamin D rich foods is advocated to assist the prevention of Vitamin D deficiency, particularly in winter months, when supplementation may also be required.

There are two different types of Vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), both types are good for bone health but D3 can be more effective.

This gives a summary of the what, the why and the how of Vitamin D and calcium and their role in bone health.

You can read the first part of our Eat Well, Feel Well series with Emma Tester, Lead Performance Nutritionist Munster Rugby here, while Daniel Davey, Senior Performance Nutritionist with Leinster Rugby, explored the topic of nutrition fundamentals here and Marcus Shortall, Performance Nutritionist with the Ireland Sevens programme, discussed the different energy sources. Last week, Gary Sweeney, Performance Nutritionist with the IRFU National Talent Development Pathway, wrote about the topic of hydration and Sophie Conroy outlined the importance of fibre for your gut health.

For more on the IRFU’s Eat2Compete series for younger athletes, click here