Vitamin D and Athletic Performance

November 18, 2022

Regular physical activity or sport is a daily commitment to your health. Doing sports is extremely important, but it is also important to take special care of your diet to achieve the best possible performance and optimal post-exercise recovery.

To achieve this, vitamin D is a key nutrient since it has been shown that its deficiency is a limiting factor in athletic performance and, on the other hand, it is an abundant enhancer.

What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is a prohormone that can be obtained in three ways: from direct exposure of the skin to the sun, from the diet, or supplements. 

Because of this, it is advisable to favor exposure of the face, arms, and hands to sunlight, but the penetration of ultraviolet light depends on the amount of melanin we have in our skin, the type of clothing, the blocking of rays by glass windows and the use of sunscreens.

This vitamin must be activated to act, it does so using two hydroxylations, the first in the liver and the second in the kidneys.

Benefits and functions of vitamin D

  • It is vital for the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth.

  • Nerves need vitamin D to transmit messages between the brain and every part of the body.

  • Essential for the immune system as it uses vitamin D to fight invading viruses and bacteria.

  • It influences the absorption and metabolism of phosphorus and calcium: by increasing the absorption of calcium and phosphate in the intestine, increasing the reabsorption of calcium and phosphate in the bones, and by acting on the kidney to reduce calcium loss in urine.

  • Vitamin D plays a fundamental role in calcium and phosphorus homeostasis, thus it reduces the possibility of lesions.

  • It intervenes in oxidative capacity and energy production, allowing you to recover more easily from the efforts of physical activity and influencing your athletic performance.

Due to these benefits, athletes need to have an adequate vitamin D intake since its deficit can have consequences.

Vitamin D deficiency in athletes

Deficiency of this vitamin in athletes is very common. Generally, this deficiency is greater and is accentuated in athletes who train in closed spaces, such as swimmers, gymnasts, and weightlifters. This is because the main source of this vitamin is the sun.

Low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with increased muscle weakness after intense exercise, impairing recovery and thus affecting future training sessions.

It is crucial to have high levels of vitamin D during an injury as it will help you recover your strength. So it is essential for athletes who perform regular weight lifting, as they need to strengthen their bone and muscle structure.

There is a direct correlation between vitamin D levels and a correct mitochondrial function, that is to say, you will have a better production of ATP (the molecule from which we obtain energy). Thus, you will perform better in training and generate more strength.

These benefits mentioned are NOT obtained by an excess of vitamin D. If you already have adequate vitamin D levels, you don't need more. Excess vitamin D in the body won't help you improve your performance because too much of it can even be toxic. 

The excessive intake of vitamin D can produce an intoxication characterized by the elevation of the serum concentration of calcium (hypercalcemia) and phosphorus (hyperphosphatemia) and by the calcification of soft tissues such as kidneys, and lungs.

A safe dose for adults is up to 4000 IU/day, but doses should be adjusted according to individual needs.

Detecting your vitamin D levels is easy, and all you need to do is a blood test. As more and more people suffer from vitamin D deficiency, it's important to check this twice a year and fix the problem if necessary. 

What foods are sources of vitamin D?

As previously mentioned, the main source of vitamin D is the sun, but we also get it from foods, although very few contain it naturally, and because of that, we also have fortified foods, which can be a good resource in some cases.

  • Oily fish: salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

  • Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolk contain smaller amounts.

  • Some mushrooms provide a certain amount of vitamin D, such as the shitake mushroom.

  • You can find vitamin D-fortified milk, among other products.

Don't focus only on vitamin D as it has a direct relation with other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K. 

If you increase your vitamin D levels too much, you are, on the other hand, decreasing the levels of other nutrients. 

But if you eat a diet rich in nutritionally varied foods and have good sun exposure, you don't have to worry.

Final Word

In conclusion, vitamin D can be of great help to athletes who are vitamin D deficient, as it prevents the loss of bone and muscle mass, thus improving muscle strength and power and reducing the risk of falls and injuries.