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The Role of Vitamin D in Athletic Performance

October 22, 2019

A lack of vitamin D can negatively impact athletes during colder months when the sun shines less. A local registered dietitian shares how to boost your vitamin D level to maintain top performance. 

By Annica Wyskochil

Welcome to the season of football, flannels and pumpkin spice-flavored everything! Fall is here and whether we want to admit it or not, summer has sadly come to an end. Unfortunately, this means shorter days and less time in the sun for those of us living in the northern hemisphere.

Contrary to the summer months, our bodies make little, if any, vitamin D from the sun in these regions. As a result, Michiganders are at a relatively greater risk for vitamin D deficiency. In addition, Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent among athletes and can negatively affect physical performance. Research shows that vitamin D deficiency increases risk for numerous chronic and inflammatory diseases, including hypertension, cardiometabolic disease, arthritis and certain cancers.

Discover the important role vitamin D plays in your health and the effect it may have on athletic performance:

Functions of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is best known for its vital role in bone health, but did you know that vitamin D is actually a hormone that functions as a regulator of many processes throughout the body? Emerging research indicates the important roles vitamin D plays in skeletal muscle growth, immune function and inflammation reduction — all important factors to health, training and performance. Levels of deficiency also have been linked to poor bone density, falls, fractures, cancer, immune dysfunction, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

As a regulator, vitamin D influences skeletal muscle by turning on processes that impact muscle growth. In deficient athletes, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) supplementation has been shown to improve muscle performance, including quadriceps strength, vertical jump and sprint performances. In injured athletes and non-athletes, a slight vitamin D insufficiency also seems to delay rehabilitation and recovery following orthopedic surgery.

Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D can be obtained from dietary sources but is primarily obtained through absorption of ultraviolet B radiation through the skin. Unfortunately, many people struggle to receive adequate UVB light for reasons including schedules, location, pigmentation of the skin or risk of sun cancer. This would not be an issue if you could consume adequate amounts through food alone. However, with a limited set of vitamin D-rich foods (see chart below), you would have to consume a large amount daily in order to receive the vitamin D you need. Therefore, a vitamin D supplement can help. It is recommended to supplement with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), as it takes fewer steps to become the active form of vitamin D (calcitriol), allowing it to be better absorbed by the body. benefits of vitamin DEvaluating and Dosing Vitamin D

Routine testing may be beneficial for athletes and active individuals in the northern regions of the U.S. Although there is no agreed upon optimal level, deficiency is generally defined as a blood level less than 20 nanograms per milliliter (see chart below). Many experts recommend a level of at least 32 ng/mL and suggest that 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day would maintain that level. Among athletes with levels suggesting insufficiency, vitamin D supplementation of 3,000 IU and 5,000 IU per day can lead to sufficient concentrations during winter months.benefits of vitamin DNow that we’re in fall and are heading into winter, it’s a good idea to have a serum vitamin D test to determine your vitamin D status, especially if you’re an athlete or active individual. Due to many factors that interfere with receiving adequate vitamin D, Vitamin D supplementation may be necessary. Be proactive this season and get the “deets” on your vitamin D status so you can perform optimally!

Annica Wyskochil is a registered dietitian at the Life Time Bloomfield Hills location. She has worked among various age groups educating individuals on the impact nutrition has on our health and how we can make it a priority in our lifestyle. She has a passion for educating and encouraging others to fuel their bodies properly in order to feel their greatest and perform optimally. When Annica is not working, she enjoys weight lifting, cooking and trying new things with friends and family.

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