To compound the issue, winter is now upon us and it’s not uncommon to leave the house in the morning dark and come home in the evening dark. It’s depressing and Vitamin D insufficient. Athletes are also more likely to train indoors as a result of the colder weather. In this instance, consider increasing dietary Vitamin D and/or taking a multivitamin that contains both Vitamin D and calcium.
A key component of Vitamin D is to know that it has a somewhat romantic relationship with calcium. The body can’t properly absorb and use calcium to build strong bones if there isn’t the body doesn’t have enough Vitamin D. In the instance of a Vitamin D shortage, calcium from food cannot be efficiently absorbed and utilized, so the body begins to leech calcium from bones to compensate. Leeched calcium is the first step towards brittle bones and increased risk of injury. Studies have also found that adequate vitamin D intake is needed to keep muscles strong and intact, whereas deficiency leads to weakness and muscle atrophy. Athletes, you work hard for those power supplying, body propelling and feat defying muscles! Lets help keep them in tiptop shape with adequate Vitamin D love.
Less commonly known is the important role Vitamin D plays in immune health. After a workout the body’s’ immune system is compromised and more susceptible to infection and illness. Vitamin D helps promote the expression of immune cells, ultimately increasing immune strength while decreasing inflammation and risk of illness. Conversely, research has shown that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risk of infection and illness. Nothing impairs training more than a weeklong bout with the flu or a head cold that just won’t go away.
The Endocrine Society recommends 1,500–2,000 IU of Vitamin D per day for adults (18 years and older). To boost your dietary intake of Vitamin D, look to the following high quality food sources:
Liver and cod liver oil are exceptionally high in Vitamin D because it is stored within the liver. When liver or liver oil is eaten all of that stored Vitamin D comes with it. It’s like winning the Vitamin D lottery!
Fortified foods are an easy and convenient way for the athlete on the go to consume Vitamin D daily. Orange juice and various milk products will often have a label touting its Vitamin D fortification. Athletes should also consider consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring and/or halibut, on a regular basis because they contain omega fatty acids in addition to Vitamin D; a prime combination for an immunity boost.
Check out these recipes for a Vitamin D boost !
Three things to know about acquiring Vitamin D from sunlight:
1. The intensity of the sun depends on your geographical location. The closer to the equator you live, the stronger the Vitamin D producing UVB rays. Typically, summer months are the best time to receive sun-given Vitamin D in the United States. During the winter the suns rays are less intense due to the rotation of the earth’s axis. For example, individual’s livings in Boston receive very little Vitamin D November through February as a result of their geography on the earth (not to mention being bundled up head to toe to keep out the cold).
2. The particular UVB light that produces Vitamin D does not pass through windows. This creates a great excuse to spend some time outside!
3. While sun exposure is the best natural way to synthesize Vitamin D, current research indicates that one should always wear sunscreen to decrease risk of skin cancer and supplement Vitamin D as needed.
Sunlight is great for synthesizing Vitamin D, however, for longer training sessions especially, it's best to lather up in protective sunscreen than risk burning and increasing risks of skin cancer.
In short, Vitamin D is crucial for innate immunity, bone density, reduction of muscle wasting and exercise-related inflammation as well as overall health. Vitamin D level is not monitored in routine blood tests, so it’s not a bad idea to have your level checked by a primary care physician. [Also ask your insurance company first whether or not this lab test is covered as it's $300+ out of pocket!]
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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