Vitamin D to Optimize Your Fitness

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which helps support bone health, muscle function, cell growth and immunity.

Vitamin D is obtained in three ways:
1. Consuming vitamin D-containing foods
2. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light
3. Ingestion of supplemental vitamin D

Risk Factors for Vitamin D Deficiency in Athletes:

  • Indoor sport or winter sport
  • Dark or extremely fair skin
  • Living and training at northern latitudes
  • Sunscreen use
  • Limited sun exposure
  • Low dietary vitamin D intake
  • Low or high body fat levels

Importance of Vitamin D on Performance

  • Sufficient levels are needed to maintain bone health and aid in injury repair
  • Vitamin D helps enhance the ability of muscle to make quick, explosive movements
  • Adequate vitamin D allows the body to fight off common upper respiratory infections often caused by a high volume of training at high intensities
  • Vitamin D status may positively effect velocity and jump height

Assessment of Vitamin D Status:

  • Status varies seasonally
  • In the blood, 25 hydroxy vitamin D3 or 25(OH) D should be assessed
  • At the end of the summer (or early fall) and winter months are the best time to assess
  • Baseline testing is justified at any time of the year, especially if low status may be

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency in Athletes:

  • Low bone mass
  • Stress fractures
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained muscle and joint pain
  • Frequent illness

How Much Daily Vitamin D is Enough

Institute of Medicine Recommends for individuals 14-50 years old = 600 IU/day
Dietary sources of vitamin D are important to support vitamin D status; however, it is
challenging to meet daily needs with dietary sources alone. Dietary needs are much higher to restore status if blood levels are low. 

Keep in mind, dietary supplementation, recommended by a health professional, may
be necessary in addition to food sources to improve status.

Sun exposure can be an important contributing source to build vitamin D stores. On average, the skin can synthesize about 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D in less than 30 minutes of exposure.

The amount of vitamin D synthesized from sun exposure depends on the individual. Furthermore, these factors decrease an athlete’s ability to synthesize vitamin D as effectively:

  • Living in northern latitude
  • Winter season
  • Day light outside 10:00am -2:00pm
  • Darker skin color
  • Clothing that covers large body areas
  • Sunscreen use
  • Body fat

Simple Ways to Improve Vitamin D Status - Include vitamin D-rich fish in 2-3 meals per week

  • Pair 1-2 hard-boiled eggs with fortified cereal and orange juice for a vitamin D-rich breakfast
  • Top pasta, rice or quinoa with mushrooms
  • Grill up salmon burgers for dinner and add leftovers to salads and tacos throughout the week
  • Add fortified milk to fruit smoothies for a snack
  • Aim for 5-30 minutes of sun exposure per day (without sunscreen) to help build up vitamin D stores; allow sunlight to reach arms, legs and trunk for greatest benefit (if you have a history of skin cancer and melanoma, unprotected sun exposure is contraindicated)

Vitamin D Food Sources

Source: USOC Sports Nutrition

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