Cyclists and Osteoporosis

Maintenance of bone health is very important for cyclists. Because it is not a true weight bearing activity, cyclists bones do not get the same amount of stimulation as weight bearing exercises like walking and running.

If you are a cyclist, who trains hard and strives for low body fat levels. You should be aware of how this can affect your bone health.

Good training practises, lifestyle and healthy nutrition are essential to keep your bones in good shape. The important thing to note is that your current training and nutrition habits will affect your bone health now and as you age.

What is Osteoporosis?

Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being removed and replaced. As we get older, more bone is naturally lost and replaced. People with osteoporosis lose more bone than people who do not have the disease.

Osteoporosis causes bones to become fragile and therefore they break easily e.g. through a minor bump or fall from a standing position or less

Osteoporosis in Athletes

Osteoporosis or osteopenia in athletes is associated with: the age of onset of training, duration, intensity and volume of training.

High Risk Sports

The sport’s most high risk to develop bone loss are cyclists, light weight rowers, swimmers, ballet dancers, gymnasts and marathon runners. Diet and stress, psychological as well as physical stress, all cause bone loss.

The loss is mainly of trabecular bone, which is found in the vertebrae (bones in your back) and the neck of the femur (which is in your hip).


Exercise plays a very important role both in the formation of bone and the maintenance of bone throughout the life cycle. Bones require normal levels of sex hormones, adequate calories and normal levels of protein.

Vitamins and minerals

Daily Calcium amounts of 1000 -1500mg and 800 international units of Vitamin D and regular weight bearing exercise, help to reduce a persons risk of bone loss and also help to improve bone.

Exercise affects the skeleton in different ways. The direct effect of stress loading can be to increase bone mineral density. Intensive aerobic exercise, however, can adversely affect bone density indirectly by its effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, which results in low oestrogen levels in females (Wolman 1994 ;O Brien 2007).

Overtraining and bone health

Over trained male athletes may also show low levels of testosterone. They may develop stress fractures and osteoporosis (Gillooly 2002, Rigby 2003). Low levels of testosterone are one of the major causes of bone loss in men and should always be checked when a male has been diagnosed with bone loss.

Irish Osteoporosis Society

Risk factors

Check these risk factors from the Irish Osteoporosis Society out to see if you should be concerned about your future bone health.

Underweight for your Height

Can place a person at a higher risk than those who are at a normal weight for their height.

Not enough calories for amount of exercise

If a person is not eating enough calories for the amount of exercise they are doing. This can increase cortisol levels which can cause bone loss due to low levels of sex hormone levels.

Physiological Stress

Inadequate nutrition, poor absorption, excessive exercise, inadequate rest periods or excessive competitions can lead to physiological stress.

This affects sex hormones, which can increase bone loss. It may also lead to increased cortisol levels which causes bone loss.

Psychological stress

Due to any cause, particularly if it is associated with inadequate nutrition and poor absorption. This will often result in increased cortisol and prolactin levels in the blood, which can cause bone loss.


High levels of cortisol can increase bone loss, usually seen in people with: Cushing’s syndrome, a person on steroids, such as Prednisolone or an athlete who is overtraining or some with eating disorders.

Hopefully most of you should have no problems with bone density. if you have one or more risk factors for bone loss or would like more informationmedical expertise can be found at Irish Osteoporosis society

See Video explanation

Paddy Doran high performance cycling coach

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