Seldom mentioned in conversations about what nutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need to thrive, phosphorous is the unsung hero of our bodies’ sometimes mysterious inner workings.
What Is Phosphorus?
After calcium, phosphorous is the most common mineral in our bodies. This mineral is responsible for various functions that help keep us healthy.
What Is Its Biological Role?
Phosphorous  is commonly found with calcium in nature; this is serendipitous as they work synergistically to promote and maintain bone health. Phosphorous also helps strengthen your teeth, contract your muscles, regulate heartbeat and nerve conduction, and effectively filter kidney waste.
Phosphorous is also integral to the synthesis of DNA and RNA, which are used to build every cell in the body. Once cells are created, though, the job of phosphorous is not done; it also plays a role in continuing to maintain and even help repair cells as they sustain damage over time.
The body’s energy production is also affected by what are called nucleic acids, compounds that cannot be properly formed without phosphorous.
How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?
The University of Michigan’s Health Library shows theories correlating phosphorous levels and endurance in athletes . The idea is based off of both personal testimony of athletes who say they have reaped some benefit from this practice, and also from the characteristics of the mineral itself.
Phosphorous, is addition to its many jobs within the body, can also act as an acid neutralizer. In any situation where you force your muscles to exert effort, you are essentially racing against the clock of your own endurance. An easy definition of endurance is how quickly your muscles are creating a buildup of lactic acid as a byproduct of their effort.
The more a muscle works, the more lactic acid builds up in the muscle as a byproduct of all of those individuals movements. The limits of practical endurance are reached when lactic acid buildup becomes so extreme that it negates the muscle’s strength–your muscle becomes too overwhelmed with the acid to function.
This is what is responsible for the burning feeling in your calves when you are running just a little bit too long. Some say that maintaining slightly higher levels of phosphorous in the body before an intense workout or competition can help to neutralize this acid and significantly improve your endurance.
What Foods Contain It?
Phosphorous usually occurs in high levels in foods that also contain a lot of calcium. Some examples include: milk, chocolates, yogurt, ricotta cheese, bran cereal, and more. Most people who get enough to eat can actually have the opposite problem: too much phosphorous in the body rather than too little.
In order to combat the problem, some physicians will actually prescribe a class of medications called phosphate binders to keep your body from absorbing it. If you have an interest in lowering your phosphate levels but wish to avoid medications, consider adjusting your diet to consume a greater amount of foods low in phosphorous. Almost all fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally very low in phosphorous.
How Much Of It Do You Need?
The National Institute of Health has set forth recommended daily intake levels  for phosphorus. Most physicians recommend getting all of your phosphorous from diet alone, unless you have a deficiency that must be treated with phosphate medications.
Adults are recommended 700mg per day. This includes women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The level recommended for children varies based on age.
Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?
Too much phosphorous can have adverse effects; clinically high levels of phosphorous in the body is referred to as hyperphosphatemia. This condition can cause potentially severe electrolyte imbalances in the body. If left untreated these imbalances can even sometimes lead to death.
Hyperphosphatemia also has the potential to worsen other health problems such as heart disease, osteomalacia, and others. This happens because when there is too much phosphorous in the body it also negatively affects the body’s calcium levels which leads to additional problems in the bones and other body systems.
Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?
A phosphorous deficiency can be quite dangerous as well. Without phosphorous your body will have trouble properly regulating all of the functions phosphorous helps to maintain.
This problem most commonly presents itself as muscle weakness. However, problems with muscle weakness caused by a phosphorous deficiency are so extreme that they can even interfere with the heart’s ability to contract properly. Deficiency can cause confusion, seizures, and even coma or death.
Phosphorous, while the second most common mineral in our body, requires a delicate balancing act. A side-effect of it being so readily available to us in the foods we eat is that it can sometimes build up to unsafe levels.
However, completely avoiding these foods can be just as detrimental. As always, the best advice for managing phosphorous levels is to be cognizant of the way your body is affected by the foods you consume and adjusting accordingly.
References: Voen, Med. Biological Role of Phosphorous in Nutrition. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, 1975.  University of Michigan. Health Library. University of Michigan.  US Institute of Medicine. Phosphorus-Dietary Reference Intakes. National Institute of Health, 1997.