Loving the BITE: Vitamin D for Athletic Performance and Health

Prevents Muscle Weakness and Fat Accumulation in Muscles:  Vitamin D deficiency is associated with elevated fat accumulation in muscles, which in turn reduces muscle strength and performance.  In at least one study, the deficiency and loss of muscle strength was demonstrated independent of muscle mass…muscle was actually displaced with fat AND weaker than it should be.  What’s more, there is evidence that supplementation of Vitamin D in deficient persons increases fast twitch muscle fibers in number and size, and reduces injuries (in athletes) and falls (in elderly).

Improves Overall Performance: Studies have shown a steady decline in performance in low-sunlight months, improved performance when athletes are exposed to UV rays (1950s), and peak performance when blood levels of 25 (OH) D are at or above 50 ng/mL.  What’s more, maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 Max, drops in athletes in months when less UV rays reach the Earth, such as in late Fall months.

Vitamin D for Overall Wellness:

In addition to athletic performance, Vitamin D’s also important for:

Regulating Blood Pressure

Normalizing Blood Sugars and Insulin

Preventing Cancer, especially bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate, and rectal cancer

Steady Moods and Prevention of Depression

Now that we know how important Vitamin D is, it’s no wonder that many experts believe the recommended amounts, and  “normal ranges” for lab values should be much higher than previously established.  But what other factors contribute to our seemingly inadequate intake and levels?

  1. We simply live, work, and even workout indoors too much.  Think about the Winter months…how many times have you complained that you get to work and leave work in the dark?  It’s during these short-day months that you must proactively get out and get some sunlight – take advantage of lunch breaks or any daytime opportunity to get outside.
  2. There aren’t many good food sources for Vitamin D, and of those there are, we’re not eating enough.  You can find vitamin D in: Herring (1613 IU in 3.5 oz.), Wild Salmon (981 IU in 3.5 oz.), Tuna canned in Oil (200 IU in 3.5 oz.), Milk (100 IU in 8 oz.), Eggs (18 IU in 1 large), Cheese (12 IU in 1 oz.).  Many of our foods are also now lower in Vitamin D – farm-raised fish contain lower amounts than wild fish and caged hens produce less in eggs than those that are not caged.
  3. Vitamin D synthesis works best in healthy cells.  Cells in adults who are obese or even overweight, who are not in good health,  or who are elderly may not make as much Vitamin D as they should.   In many cases, those who need the benefits of Vitamin D the most make the least.  Furthermore, those with darker skin pigmentation make less Vitamin D than those with lighter skin pigmentation.
  4. While sunscreen is obviously needed to reduce risk of skin cancer and harm to skin, it also reduces Vitamin D production.

How to Increase Your Vitamin D:

  1. Get some sun (within reason).  It only takes 10-30 minutes of midday of exposure in Spring/Summer to maximize your body’s Vitamin D synthesis at the equivalent of 10,000 IU (depending on skin tone, health, and age).
  2. For maintenance, supplement with 1000 IU to 2000 IU in Spring/Summer if you don’t get out in mid-day sun; and, supplement with 2000 IU to 3000 IU in Fall/Winter if you live in a latitude north of Atlanta, Georgia (it’s not possible to produce adequate Vitamin D in the winter months at these latitudes because the sun never gets high enough in the sky for its ultraviolet B rays to penetrate the atmosphere).  Both Vitamin D3 and D2 supplements work to raise blood levels, but it can take more Vitamin D2 to achieve the same results (D3 is from animal sources while D2 is from plant sources).
  3. If you are concerned about a deficiency, get your level checked.  Ask for a for total 25(OH)D, not 1, 25(OH)D.  Vitamin D deficiency is usually identified as <25 ng/dL, but anything less than 30 ng/dL is sub-optimal for an athlete (who “uses” and depends on more nutrients in the body than a sedentary person), and many experts recommend a goal of at least 50 ng/dL for athletes.   If you are deficient, you will need much higher doses until you are within a normal range – speak to your doctor about higher doses and retesting until it’s in the normal range.

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