You wouldn’t think athletes with their strong bones and muscles would need any Vitamin D supplementation. But according to a recent report, there are sports health benefits to taking Vitamin D supplements. Some of those benefits actually come in the form of prevention. That is — preventing the musculoskeletal events that can occur when someone is Vitamin D deficient (e.g., bone fractures, musculoskeletal pain, frequent illness).
Vitamin D is made in the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet B rays from the sun. But fears about skin cancer have reduced sun exposure through the use of sunscreen products. People living in certain (Northern) regions of the globe don’t receive enough of the essential sun rays even without sunscreen.
Because very little Vitamin D comes from natural food sources, some products like cereals and milk are Vitamin D fortified. But even with these dietary sources, most people (children and adults) are considered Vitamin D deficient and in need of supplementation. Athletes and sports participants are no exception. In the report we referred to, results of studies suggest the following for athletes:
Research has not been done to show what blood levels of Vitamin D are linked with optimal sports performance for each individual athlete. As mentioned, exceeding 50 ng/mL doesn’t seem to provide any additional benefit. We do know that performance is enhanced by exposure to ultraviolet rays. Studies from more than 50 years ago showed less pain with sports injuries, improved reaction times, faster speeds, and greater endurance in athletes with adequate vitamin stores in the body.
Likewise, it is clear that the effects of too-low levels of Vitamin D include severe muscle weakness, loss of muscle tone, generalized body pain, increased falls, and bone deformities. Athletes who have enough Vitamin D have fewer colds and flus. And you may find the added benefit of faster recovery from inflammation after bouts of overtraining.
The best approach may be to talk with your team physician about your concerns. A blood test can establish your baseline level of Vitamin D. Any supplementation should be done under your physician’s direct supervision.