The Importance of Vitamin D for Athletes

Have you heard about vitamin D? Do you need to supplement with it as an athlete?

Vitamin D plays a vital role in your overall health and performance. It helps promote optimal bone growth and strength. It helps prevent fractures, fight off illness, and improve muscle health. 

Why Do I Need Vitamin D?

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium (another important mineral). Together, these two nutrients work to keep your bones and muscles healthy. These are both extremely important in an athlete’s diet. Athletes that are deficient in vitamin D are at a higher risk of upper respiratory tract infections (sneezing, sore throat, runny nose) and injuries. This is especially true of bones. It is common to see stress fractures in those who are vitamin D deficient. I know how frustrating injuries can be as an athlete and I wish I had known the importance of vitamin D when I was a D1 soccer player!

How Do I Get Vitamin D?

You can get vitamin D through certain foods, supplements, and my personal favorite-the sun! I recommend that athletes consume 600 IU of vitamin D per day. This equates to a get minimum 15 minutes of full-body sun exposure each day.

Ensuring an optimal vitamin D status is often difficult during the winter months due to your decreased exposure to sunlight. This time of year, you likely spend less time outside as training sessions are often moved indoors. In addition, much of your time outside on the field is spent bundled up, further reducing exposure. It is important for you to recognize the important food and non-food sources of Vitamin D that provide optimal health for peak performance.

How to Achieve Optimal Vitamin D Status

Achieving adequate vitamin D status can be tricky but it should be a priority. Here are 3 main ways for you to focus on getting in adequate vitamin D.

  1. Optimize sunlight for vitamin D production
  2. Vitamin D containing foods
  3. Learning how and when to supplement vitamin D

1. Achieving optimal intake through non-food sources

Food sources containing vitamin D are great! You always want to strive to consume adequate amounts of vitamin D before you turn to a supplement even though most athletes do not achieve their recommended daily vitamin D intake through diet alone. I recommend combining 15 minutes of sunlight each day with vitamin D food 2-3 sources a day.

In order for you to reap the positive benefits of sunlight, about 20% of your body should be exposed. That being said, the amount of sun exposure to synthesize vitamin D in the body will vary from athlete to athlete. Those with darker skin require approximately twenty minutes of exposure each day, compared to fair-skinned athletes. However, getting enough sunlight isn’t always possible due to various factors such as location and the time of year. For instance, those that live in the contiguous (mainland) United States will likely be reaching healthy vitamin D levels during the summer, fall, and spring months, but not in winter due to the lack of sunlight exposure. 

During the warmer months, it is important to enjoy the sunshine! Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, your body will store the extra vitamin D for a rainy day. It is also important to increase your consumption of vitamin D rich foods during the winter months. This will ensure you are providing your body with what it needs to perform at your best! 

2. Vitamin D Containing Foods

Oily fish, eggs, and fortified sources like cereals and orange juice are all considered great sources of vitamin D. However, a single serving of any of the sources listed above will leave you deficient.  

As I mentioned before, I recommend that the average adult athlete consumes 600 IU vitamin D per day.  The amount of vitamin D varies widely from one food source to another. It is important to be familiar with the amount of vitamin D in foods to maximize your intake.  For example, a breakfast that includes one cup of fortified multigrain cheerios contains 40 IU vitamin D, while a breakfast of two eggs contains 88 IU vitamin D. Having two eggs is double that of the cheerios and may be a better option for days not spent outside.

This breakfast would give you 164 IU vitamin D. Eating this breakfast paired with 20 minutes of sunshine would be a sufficient amount of vitamin D for one day!

3. How and when to supplement vitamin D?

Studies show that vitamin D deficiency is common among athletes, especially those in colder climates during the winter. If you believe you are vitamin D deficient, I would recommend seeing a physician to check your vitamin D levels. This should be done before supplementation! After you have consulted with your physician, I can help recommend a supplement that would work best for you! I make suggestions in my pro performance nutrition program and would love to help you!

Though vitamin D supplementation, is popular – I recommend making sure you are optimizing your vitamin D intake with food first! Your body is always going to respond better to food first!

Micronutrient intake, supplements, and other nutrition topics are regularly discussed with my athletes in the Performance Fueling Club (PFC). PFC is an online sports nutrition coaching program that helps athletes with flexible on-demand content and live nutrition coaching with a sports dietitian. 

If you are looking for guidance on optimizing your health and performance I encourage you to sign up today. We currently have open enrollment, and I would love to help support you in getting to your goals! 

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