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Vitamin D sufficiency may enhance athletic performance

Posted Jun 18 2013 4:55pm

The importance of vitamin D for bone health is now well-recognized, and the epidemic of vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency is thought to contribute to a wide range of medical conditions including cancers, mood disorders, autoimmune conditions, cardiovascular disease and more.1  As such, vitamin D sufficiency (25(OH)D greater than 30 ng/ml) is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes.2,3

D. Flickr: TooFarNorthIn addition to bone, vitamin D receptors are present in almost all cells of the body, including muscle cells. Vitamin D’s primary function is the regulation of calcium transport and metabolism – since calcium transport is an integral part of muscle contraction and relaxation, vitamin D is extremely important for proper muscle function. There is also evidence that achieving vitamin D sufficiency may help to increase muscle mass .  In the early 20th century, observations led athletes and trainers to believe that sunlight exposure could enhance athletic performance. Athletic performance has been reported to vary seasonally, peaking in the summer; positive effects of UVB exposure on athletic performance were reported as early as the 1930s. There is now speculation that improved vitamin D status is the reason for these findings.4,5

Previous studies have shown that vitamin D status correlates with muscle function in the elderly, and that vitamin D supplementation improves muscle strength in elderly and/or deficient populations.6-9 New research is beginning to extend these findings to physical performance in athletes . Since there is a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency overall, and vitamin d is crucial for bone and muscle function, does vitamin D status affect injury rates or performance in athletes?  Two recent studies on professional ballet dancers suggest that it does.

Indoor athletes are likely to have insufficient vitamin D levels.5,10 The first study showed that this was true of ballet dancers in a UK company; on average, their vitamin D status was insufficient (<30 ng/ml) all year round and varied seasonally. In the winter, dancers averaged 14.9 ng/ml (deficient), and in the summer, 23.9 ng/ml (insufficient). The authors also observed a greater occurrence of injuries in the winter months.11 The follow-up study provided vitamin D3 supplements (2000 IU/day) to some of the dancers during the winter, and investigated muscle function and injury rates. In the vitamin D group, there were increases in isometric strength and vertical jump height, plus significantly fewer injuries compared to the control group.12

This is consistent with a previous study of UK athletes, which compared 5000 IU vitamin D for 8 weeks to placebo.  The researchers saw increases in sprint times and vertical jump height in the vitamin D group, but not in the placebo group.13

These results suggest that vitamin D’s beneficial effects on bone and muscle physiology can translate into enhanced athletic performance. Achieving sufficient blood vitamin D levels (25(OH)D of 30-45 ng/ml) is crucial for the health of the entire body, not just for preventing osteoporosis

 

Image credit: Flickr - TooFarNorth

References:

1. Holick MF, Chen TC: Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:1080S-1086S.
2. Melamed ML, Michos ED, Post W, et al: 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels and the Risk of Mortality in the General Population. Arch Intern Med 2008;168:1629-1637.
3. Zittermann A, Iodice S, Pilz S, et al: Vitamin D deficiency and mortality risk in the general population: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:91-100.
4. Hamilton B: Vitamin d and athletic performance: the potential role of muscle. Asian J Sports Med 2011;2:211-219.
5. Cannell JJ, Hollis BW, Sorenson MB, et al: Athletic performance and vitamin D. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009;41:1102-1110.
6. Glerup H, Mikkelsen K, Poulsen L, et al: Hypovitaminosis D myopathy without biochemical signs of osteomalacic bone involvement. Calcif Tissue Int 2000;66:419-424.
7. Sato Y, Iwamoto J, Kanoko T, et al: Low-dose vitamin D prevents muscular atrophy and reduces falls and hip fractures in women after stroke: a randomized controlled trial. Cerebrovasc Dis 2005;20:187-192.
8. Bischoff HA, Stahelin HB, Urscheler N, et al: Muscle strength in the elderly: its relation to vitamin D metabolites. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1999;80:54-58.
9. Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Dietrich T, Orav EJ, et al: Higher 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations are associated with better lower-extremity function in both active and inactive persons aged > or =60 y. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80:752-758.
10. Peeling P, Fulton SK, Binnie M, et al: Training environment and Vitamin D status in athletes. Int J Sports Med 2013;34:248-252.
11. Wolman R, Wyon MA, Koutedakis Y, et al: Vitamin D status in professional ballet dancers: Winter vs. summer. J Sci Med Sport 2013.
12. Wyon MA, Koutedakis Y, Wolman R, et al: The influence of winter vitamin D supplementation on muscle function and injury occurrence in elite ballet dancers: A controlled study. J Sci Med Sport 2013.
13. Close GL, Russell J, Cobley JN, et al: Assessment of vitamin D concentration in non-supplemented professional athletes and healthy adults during the winter months in the UK: implications for skeletal muscle function. J Sports Sci 2013;31:344-353.

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