In recent years, there is no doubt Vitamin D has attracted a fair amount of media attention, and with good cause too. Even athletes frequently neglect vitamin D even though it is essential for a healthy immune system, strong bones and assistance with wound healing.
Additionally, research indicates that a lack of vitamin D increases the risk of various chronic and inflammatory illnesses, which can put athletes on their (not so preferred) losing side!
What is Vitamin D?
It is crucial to note that Vitamin D is rarely obtained through food like other vitamins. On the occasions, you consume some naturally, it only provides you with insufficient traces.
With that in mind, it is still unlikely you have not yet heard of Vitamin D or have at least been pushed by someone to go and get some sunlight. But what exactly is it?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight. However, the process is more challenging than just lying in the sun. The colour of your skin, where you live, whether or not you use sunscreen, and a variety of other factors all influence how much Vitamin D you absorb from the sun, making it an unreliable source.
Winter and bad weather also tend to create problems for athletes, as without taking vitamin D supplements, they must rely on their bodies' vitamin D stores, increasing their risk of deficiency.
Why Do Athletes Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a necessary nutrient with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. While vitamin D positively affects immune functions, adequate amounts can prevent future injuries and improve athletic performance.
Stress fractures, breaks and osteoporosis can all be due to a lack of Vitamin D and weakened bone strength.
While athletes should be concerned with the maintenance of bone density, vitamin D has additional benefits that athletes should be aware of:
- Muscle Recovery: Previous research suggests that vitamin D plays a role in increasing type II muscle fibres, whereas low vitamin D levels weaken muscle fibres. Vitamin D has been shown to increase protein synthesis and decrease the rate of muscle fibre degradation, both of which athletes require.
- More Robust Immune System: Keeping a strong immune system is crucial for athletes, upon which Vitamin D can influence both innate and adaptive immune responses. As well as this, Vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased autoimmunity and susceptibility to infection.
- Energy and Mental Health: Keeping mentality and attitude intact is essential for any great athlete. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with fatigue and other unspecific symptoms, including headache, musculoskeletal pain and weakness, depression, and impaired cognitive performance.
Can Vitamin D Supplements Peak Athlete's Performance?
With studies proving the cruciality of Vitamin D, the benefits for athletes, particularly, have proven to be substantial. Over the years, in an attempt to put the science of these supplements to the test, case studies have been brought about to expose how well Vitamin D can peak performance in athletes.
Here is a couple we have found from different athletic backgrounds:
Based on a study in 2013, 14 footballers were recruited from a Premier League club's academy by researchers. Half of the participants received vitamin D daily for eight weeks, while the other half received a placebo. Before and after supplementation, the players completed a collection of physical tests.
The supplement group significantly improved their vertical jump and 10m sprint performance, while the placebo group did not. The supplement group also improved bench press by 6.5kg on average, while the placebo group improved by 2.5kg.
The placebo group's back squat 1RM also increased by 9kg, compared to 3kg in the placebo group. Significant findings within this case led the researchers to conclude that Vitamin D can assist athletes in maintaining and performing at a high level and achieving peak-performance results in the process.
According to a 2014 study, 24 elite classical ballet dancers took part in a 4-month controlled oral vitamin D supplementation. Pre and post-intervention isometric muscular strength and vertical jump height were measured.
The in-house medical team also documented any injuries during the intervention period. Significant increases in isometric strength were observed in the intervention group. The findings concluded that oral vitamin D supplementation benefits muscular performance and injury occurrence in elite ballet dancers.