Vitamin D and Athletes
Around this time last year, I moved to Northern California and had my first doctor’s appointment for an annual exam. I was surprised to learn that one of the results from my battery of tests was that I was Vitamin D deficient. This was a real shock to me, especially given my lifestyle. I walk 15 minutes to and from work everyday outside. I exercise outside 7 or more hours a week. I assumed I was getting more than my healthy share of Vitamin D. In talking to my doctor that is not in fact the case. For one, when I walk to work I am wearing clothes that cover 80-90% of my body. I often pass under awnings and shade and am in direct sunlight for only a very short period of time. When I work out, I am also pretty covered up and wearing enough sunblock that I might as well be working out at night.
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol can be ingested from the diet and from supplements. The body can also synthesize vitamin D (specifically cholecalciferol) in the skin, from cholesterol, when sun exposure is adequate (hence its nickname, the “sunshine vitamin”). – via wikipedia
wI have also learned that the absorption rate of rate of Vitamin D varies by source. To get what you need from the sun, you essentially need to lie out in your swimsuit with no SPF protection for 15-20 minutes a day. If you are African-American, you absorb at an even lower rate than Caucasians so the risk of developing a deficiency is higher. Some studies suggest that if you live above 42.2 degrees N parallel, winter sun exposure “will not promote vitamin D3 synthesis in human skin.” In general, the total number of days of direct sun exposure is less than you might think, even in California. So in come supplements, of which you really need D3, the activated form. Taken with food once or twice daily for a month should keep most in the normal zone if you are deficient.
I am sharing this information because I recently made the mistake of forgetting my top training principles of nutrition and recovery. I only just this weekend got back into training after almost nearly two weeks off. I had hit a point where I could barely move and my back was giving me spasms. I went to one doctor to only be told my ergonomics were probably just wrong. I went for a second opinion where I confirmed I had a severe vitamin D deficiency. My body had essentially just stopped healing itself. So I am taking now 5 times the daily recommended amount and will be weaning down to the normal dosage over the next 6 weeks.
I can confirm also that after the first few days I was able to get back into training moderately and I am feeling a lot better. To give the first doctor some credit, I also upgraded our neck supporting pillows at home and switched to a standing desk at work. All of this to reduce stress on my back since I put a tremendous amount of load on it during my training. In that point lies the crux of why it is essentially for athletes, especially endurance athletes to watch their blood results and mineral levels. We demand a lot of our bodies and they need help in getting back to 100%. Vitamin D being a particularly important part of that healing equation. So, even if you train outdoors, make sure you supplement for any deficiencies, especially vitamin D.