Vitamin D is essential for immune function, bone health and wound healing, but many people (including athletes) lack this nutrient. Although it can be obtained through diet and the sun, supplementation may be necessary to meet the nutritional needs of athletes. Here’s how nutrition professionals can use vitamin D to improve the sports performance of their patients.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is responsible for immune and bone health, cancer prevention and improved oxygen intake. It can be synthesized by our skin from exposure to UVB rays, however, many of us do not expose ourselves enough to the sun to make enough vitamin D. In addition, vitamin D is only found in a few foods, which means that many of us (including athletes) lack it in our daily consumption.
While everyone should reach the required daily amounts of vitamin D, it is even more important for athletes to monitor their intake if they want to improve their performance. So, how can you, as nutrition professionals, help your clients monitor their vitamin D intake to improve their performance? Let’s start by exploring what vitamin D is and how athletes can benefit from adequate amounts of this nutrient.
What is vitamin D?
Otherwise known as “sun vitamin”, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced endogenously when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays hit the skin and trigger the synthesis of vitamin D.
You can also obtain it through your diet in the form of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) or vitamin D3. The first is present in plants and yeast, while vitamin D3 comes from animal sources (such as fatty fish). Vitamins D2 and D3 both play the same role in the body; however, some studies have shown that D3 is more effective in increasing vitamin D levels in the body than D2.
The recommended nutritional intake (RSA) is as follows:
- Between 0 and 1 year: 400 IU per day
- Between 1 and 70 years old: 600 IU per day
- Adults over 70 years of age: 800 IU per day
Benefits of vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that offers a variety of health benefits, as well as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Here are some other health benefits of vitamin D.
- Bone health. Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium by the intestine and plays an important role in maintaining bone health by regulating calcium and phosphorus. Adequate amounts also help to ward off osteoporosis and rachitism.
- Cancer prevention. Studies have shown that vitamin D supplementation of 1,100 to 1,500 IU per day can reduce the risk of cancer by at least 30%.
- Reduction of the risk of diabetes. Research has shown that increasing serum vitamin D levels at a normal level leads to a 55% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency
Even if vitamin D is an essential nutrient, it is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide have a deficiency.
Here are some symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency, all of which are important when it comes to sports performance.
- Muscle weakness. Low vitamin D intakes have been associated with muscle weakness, which can negatively affect an athlete’s performance.
- Fatigue. Studies have shown that low blood vitamin D levels can be associated with drowsiness and a general increase in fatigue.
- Mood changes. Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to higher levels of depression.
- Decreased immune health. Vitamin D can modulate the innate and adaptive immune response. As such, a deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of infections.