Optimizing your vitamin D level is one of the most important things you can do for athletic performance. Having sufficient vitamin D has been shown to enhance both aerobic and strength performance. It also affects body composition and has a protective effect against injury and illness.
Start With Vitamin D To Optimize Athletic Performance
Sports supplements are a popular option for boosting athletic performance or losing weight. However, none of these aids are going to help if you're deficient in vitamin D. Every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor, which means cells will not respond as well without this vital nutrient.
Levels of vitamin D deficiency vary, but surveys of athletes show deficiency rates of 30 to 60 percent are not uncommon depending on seasonality and sport. Vitamin D deficiency is considered a blood level of below 12 ng/mL, whereas inadequate vitamin D (a level that is insufficient for bone health or muscle strength) is a value between 12 and 30 ng/mL. Inadequate vitamin D affects anywhere from 56 to 88 percent of athletes.
Once you optimize your vitamin D level, you can experiment with the exciting supplements that boost athletic performance. Whether it's a straight-up performance enhancer like creatine, or a recovery nutrient such as magnesium, supplements will be so much more effective if your vitamin D level is up to par.
Reasons To Optimize Vitamin D For Athletic Performance
#1: Vitamin D improves muscle strength and power.
Lack of vitamin D impairs your muscles' ability to contract and relax. This leads to muscle weakness and reductions in the rate at which muscle fibers "fire."
Vitamin D is also necessary for protein synthesis, which leads to growth of muscle. Vitamin D is also protective of muscle mass, reducing the loss of protein in muscle that comes with aging, inactivity, or calorie restriction.
Adequate vitamin D has been found to increase size and strength of type II muscle fibers in a variety of populations. For example, in one study, professional soccer players who were deficient in vitamin D took 5,000 IUs of vitamin D daily for 8 weeks and significantly improved vertical jump and 10-meter sprint times compared to a placebo. Scientists believe vitamin D preferentially targets the most powerful type 2 fibers for growth and power development, resulting in more forceful muscle contractions.
#2: Vitamin D is a key player in achieving optimal body composition.
Vitamin D is essential for building muscle and reducing body fat. Muscle tissue is a target organ for vitamin D and this mineral impacts protein synthesis. Vitamin D also prevents fat from being stored in muscle. It also revs metabolic rate, supporting a higher daily energy expenditure.
Vitamin D is necessary for strong bones. Often ignored as a component of body composition, a strong skeleton is a critical component of lean body mass that plays a role in metabolism and inflammation management. Bone also serves as a reserve for calcium, an important metabolic nutrient that works with vitamin D to mineralize and strengthen bone.
#3: Vitamin D is necessary for hormone release.
Although research is still emerging regarding the role of hormones in athleticism, we know that balanced hormones are necessary for peak performance. They also affect body composition and the optimal ratio of lean mass to body fat in sports.
Low vitamin D is associated with hormone irregularities in both men and women. Balanced hormones influence muscle building, fat burning, and metabolic rate.
In men, low vitamin D is associated with low testosterone. Supplementing with 3,332 IUs of vitamin D daily for a year raised free testosterone in men with testosterone deficiency. The effect was likely due to two processes: 1) vitamin D reduces levels of the enzyme aromatase that leads testosterone to be transformed into estrogen, and 2) vitamin D increases binding of testosterone to receptors.
In women, vitamin D affects how women store fat. A deficiency leads to increased inflammation and fat gain around the abdominal area that is a risk factor for disease. Vitamin D also affects female reproductive health and it necessary for a healthy pregnancy.
#4: Vitamin D supports a robust immune system.
The immune system is often overlooked as a key factor in athletic performance. In fact, it plays a central role in ability to recover and perform at your best. Vitamin D is crucial for activating immune defenses. Low vitamin D compromises the body’s T-cells ability to fight off serious infections. It also puts you at risk of developing excess inflammation that is a major obstacle to healing and health.
#5: Vitamin D protects against injury.
One of the most powerful ways vitamin D supports athletic performance, is its ability to reduce injury and illness rates. For example, a research study found that NFL athletes who had the lowest vitamin D levels had a much greater risk of muscle injury over the course of the season. The average vitamin D level of injured players was 19.9 ng/ml, whereas the healthy players had an average level that was about 12 points higher at 31.9 ng/ml.
How To Optimize Vitamin D For Athletic Performance
Vitamin D is produced in the body in response to direct sunlight. To maintain healthy levels year-round, get a vitamin D test seasonally because blood levels fluctuate with the change in sunlight.
If you are healthy but low in vitamin D, 2,000 to 7,000 IUs of vitamin D per day should be sufficient to maintain year-round serum levels between 40-70 ng/mL. If you suffer from chronic illness (diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis), obesity, or gastrointestinal disorders (celiac or crohn’s disease), you may require larger doses to maintain vitamin D above 30 ng/ml.
To get your vitamin D from the sun, you need to get regular full-body sun exposure without the use of sunscreen. Caucasian skin produces 10,000 IUs of vitamin D from several hours of full-body sun exposure, however, if you have darker skin, vitamin D synthesis will be lower. In national surveys, African Americans have a lower vitamin D status than non-Hispanic whites and Mexican Americans. The most likely explanation for this disparity is that melanin, the primary determinant of skin pigmentation, functions as an optical filter of ultraviolet (UV) light, limiting vitamin D synthesis. Darker pigmented individuals require longer UV exposure times than lighter pigmented individuals to synthesize equivalent amounts of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a wonderful nutrient that supports body composition and athletic performance. It is so important that vitamin D is on our Foundation Five List of the top five supplements everyone should take. These are foundational nutrients that will lay the groundwork for optimal health so that when you hit the gym or sports field, you'll be ready to take your performance to the next level.