Most athletes do not have the Vitamin D levels necessary to stay healthy and maximize their athletic performance, according to a recent literature review published in the journal Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. This is too bad, considering that proper vitamin D levels are linked to optimal muscle function, muscle protein synthesis and a greater capacity for strength, jump height, jump power and overall exercise.
After evaluating 77 studies on the correlation between injury, healing and Vitamin D levels, the researchers found another correlation.
“Athletes that had musculoskeletal injuries had a greater likelihood of being vitamin D deficient,” said primary author Dr. Franklin D. Shuler, an associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in Huntington, WV.
All athletes—even those who spend ample time outdoors—should still take this information to heart, Shuler said. Sunlight exposure may not be enough to achieve healthy levels.
“If you can easily address Vitamin D deficiency, wouldn’t it make sense to do that to minimize your chance of injury?” he asked.
Even some professional sports teams are now measuring athletes’ Vitamin D levels. The Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Giants both saw a positive correlation between musculoskeletal injuries and vitamin D deficiency.
Previous studies in the American Journal of Medicine, the Archives of Internal Medicine and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and have shown that more than 75 percent of whites and 90 percent of African Americans and Latinos are deficient.
Vitamin D is produced in the body when sunlight hits the skin, and can also be obtained through your diet. Good sources include oily fish such as swordfish and sockeye salmon, as well as Vitamin D-fortified foods such as eggs and yogurt. However, even if you spend time outside and eat well, it can still be hard to get enough Vitamin D. In the winter, it's impossible for anyone north of Atlanta to produce enough Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. The sun never gets high enough in the sky for the ultraviolet B rays responsible for Vitamin D production to penetrate the atmosphere. Indoor activities, pollution, time of day and increasing age also affect your levels.
The good news is that the problem is easy to fix through supplementation. Although the government's dietary recommendations are 200 IU's per day for people 50 and younger, 400 IU's for people aged 51-70 and 600 IU's for those older than 70, many experts believe more is necessary. They advocate for 2,000 IUs of supplemental Vitamin D per day in the winter.
While this might be a good baseline, the only way to know your exact needs, Shuler said, is through a simple blood test. Once your doctor knows your numbers, he can advise you on how to supplement.