Vitamin D is critical for reaching potentials in life, like the top step of the podium. Maximum health. Strongest bones and immune system. Best neural development in utero. Avoiding a host of diseases later in life, such as MS and RA, to name just two. (Want to review the whole range of possible impacts? Look to the left side of this page)
To achieve the best elite athletic performance an archer is capable of, as well as to promote “normal” human health, the athlete’s vitamin D must be at least at a “mother-nature” blood level (MNL) throughout the year. To get there, an athlete needs to either get enough raw, high-quality sunlight, or else take over-the-counter vitamin D3 capsules, about 1,000iu for every 10 to 20 pounds of body weight, daily. The goal is to achieve a blood level as measured by a 25(OH)D test that is between 50 and 70 ng/ml. I cite 70 ng/ml because there are studies that show improvement going from 30 up to 70, there are none (yet) that show enhanced performance comes from having more than 70ng/ml. One needs to be tested in order to know for certain what the blood level is, using what is called a 25(OH)D (aka, 25 hydroxy D) test.
How do you get tested? It involves making a small hole in your hide, and collecting the blood for a special machine. Your physician can order it, and you may end up paying hundreds of dollars per test. Or, you can go to the non-profit organization, Vitamin D Council, and order an in-home test kit for $50 (or 4 for $180). It requires you to prick your finger with the lancet supplied, and put drops of your blood onto circles on a special blotter paper. Let it dry, mail it in, and in less than 2 weeks, results! Based on those results, you then adjust your intake of vitamin D capsules, or your daily exposure to sunlight, to get your levels up. This is really the only to know whether your blood level is competitively at MNL. The further from the equator you live, the weaker the sunlight. The weaker the sunlight, the more critical it is that athletes take oral capsules of vitamin D.
That’s the short of it. For those that want a better understanding of the “why” of my recommendation, read on.
One of the best references published in the last few years is “Athlete’s Edge: Faster, Quicker, Stronger with Vitamin D” by Dr. John Cannell of the Vitamin D Council. Recommended.
There are also enough published, well-done medical studies for me to conclude several things:
- No matter how good an archer is, if she is deficient in D she could be perform archery better. Why? Studies show that D improves nervous system control over muscles, enhances balance, and increases muscle strength evolution in response to training. The benefits vary based on gender, genetics, skin type, lifestyle (indoors vs. outdoors), many things.
- D is one of the few things that actually stimulates the immune system. Forget vitamin C – D has been shown to increase T-cell and interferon production, increase motility of macrophages, and when at MNL, produce cathelicidins and defensins. You want to travel on an airplane to a foreign country to compete for Team USA and NOT get sick on the way? D actually helps this, IF you have a MNL.
- Far too many physicians (in my personal experience as a pharmacist) do not understand the full nature of mother nature’s most potent anti-inflammatory, nervous system maintenance drug, immune system stimulator, and skeletal structure enforcer. If they did, they would not routinely refer to a deficient blood level (anything less than about 45 ng/ml) as “ok”. And they would not keep setting up studies where the subjects in the study never get enough vitamin D to have any reliable effect.
- The RDA for D in the US is an incompetent 600iu to 800iu per day. If you give someone 800iu of vitamin D, you literally cannot measure it in the blood seconds later, it is so inadequate. And no athlete can get to ~50 ng/ml on an 800iu dose per day. If a person can make 20,000iu in a day from just being in the sun, then 800iu as an RDA is not only a contradiction of mother nature, it’s an embarrassment.
- If you read any studies or hear a news story about vitamin D, check what the dose being studied was, and chances are good that the dose was incompetent.
- Be wary of news headlines, as reporters are usually less informed than most physicians. “Calcium and vitamin D do nothing for osteoporosis” was actually a recent headline. That borders on the criminal. yikes!
- Most coaches have little training regarding vitamin D and its effects on athletic performance. This is forgivable, and correctable.
- Most athletes have even less. Ditto. Mature athletes take responsibility for their training, which includes nutrition and health concerns, so this is your chance to move in that direction.
- What you don’t know about D CAN hurt you. It can leave you sitting in the stands instead of standing on the steps. Get that book, or do some reference reading if you can, and at least start getting more vitamin D (but not in the form of a multi-vitamin. Definitely Not Good).
- In more than 8 years of intense and diligent observation of the literature concerning nutrition and vitamin D, I have yet to find a study that shows that improving D blood levels *ever* decreases performance!
Coach Lee has taught that the main goal of the NTS is to achieve Holding. My conviction about the NTS is that in addition to Holding, everything the athlete does in the NTS also synergistically “reduces the circle”. Firm foundation / stance / posture, lower center of gravity, squeezing the grapefruit, skeletal alignment, the gunbarrel, and so on, ALL serve to create a more steady bow arm which moves and wavers less during the final steps of the shot cycle.
At anchor, it is physically impossible to keep the pin in the aperture perfectly still, right on the desired aiming point – it will always move – BUT you can reduce the hover circle size, greatly enhancing accuracy at the moment of truth, as the arrow is loosed. (Yes, that is an archaic term, but hey, we’re talking archery here – one of the original SPORTS mankind ever developed!)
Improving D has been shown in studies to improve stability and coordination, so therefore, improving your level of D to MNL will help reduce that hover circle and more rapidly quiet the scope. Your ability to “stand still” and not sway is actually enhanced. If you are a coach, as you age your risk of falling and fracturing a hip goes up as your D level goes down. Many studies show that improving D to MNL decreases falls, and also decreases greatly the risk of fractures.
Proper nutrition is just as important as practicing drawing the bow. Unfortunately you can’t EAT enough of anything that grows or is grown, to get enough vitamin D.
Why? None of our foods have enough! You would have to eat so much cold water fish (one of the highest foods in D content) that you’d get mercury poisoning before you reach the MNL.
What to do? Mother Nature gives us..for free…the Sun. Sunlight. (UV-B wavelength radiation, to be most precise). Through evolution and thousands of generations, our skin, when exposed to quality sunlight, MAKES the vitamin D that is essential for health and for optimal athletic performance.
I define quality sunlight as when your shadow is shorter than you are tall. In Texas, we can make some D just about year round, if we are out at high-noon. But if you live further north than the Red River, well, your ability to get to MNL of D goes down because the intensity of the sun goes down, especially in the fall and winter and early spring. WAY down, in some locations.
MNL? Mother-Nature Levels. What the average homo sapiens blood level is when routinely exposed to the sun’s UV-B rays, which is around 50 ng/ml. More than 80% of all Americans fall well below the MNL, some have virtually *no* measurable levels. I won’t go into all the disturbing diseases and problems which chronic deficiency leaves you open to.
By the way, D3? D2? D? What is the difference? D3 is what your body makes, the chemical name is cholecalciferol, and when someone is talking about “D”, this is usually what they mean. It is also the only kind of D available over the counter. D2 is an artificial and inferior prescription version that your body does NOT make, and when your doctor prescribes it, he’s saying that he hasn’t got a clue about D. He’s writing for you to take 50,000iu once a week, doesn’t realize that your body must attempt to convert D2 into D3 before it does any good (at a success rate of 50 to 70% ), and in short, doesn’t understand the importance of the MNL. He’s the one who will look at your blood test result of say, 20 ng/ml, and tell you, “your level is fine”. Always get the number and decide for yourself what is “fine”. In my measured opinion, a level less than 20 is a sure ticket to troubling symptoms, diseases and ill-health. Less than 40 is risking the same. Less than 45 and you also are not going to be as good of an athlete as you would be, all other things remaining the same. 25(OH)D is a metabolite your body makes from the D3, and some of your organs need this as opposed to the D3. YOU NEED THE D3, and your body will make the 25(OH)D it needs.
Back to sunlight and exposure for several important points. FIRSTLY, don’t overdo the sun – never burn, and if you find you quickly start to get pink, that is a sign that you are LOW in D, and reaching a point where you are starting to do damage.
Your body makes D in part to protect you from the sun! So do not overdo it, never burn, and don’t tan to excess, because that is damage you don’t need later in life. You will rapidly discover that the time to “pink” goes from 5 minutes to 30 minutes to hours, as your levels of D build up. Once you start to pink, THAT is when you should either get out of the sun, cover up, or else, apply sunscreen. And you should insure the sunscreen blocks UV-A wavelengths! (UV-A does the DNA damage to skin)
The typical caucasian at high noon in Austin, Texas, in July wearing just a bathing suit, (let’s call him Leslie) will make 5,000iu of D in as little as 15 minutes or so. The darker your skin, the longer making that 5,000iu will take – for truly dark skin it may take FIVE times longer. This is one reason why a greater percentage of african-americans and latinos have more D deficiency! Lifeguards typically make 20,000iu in a day, by the way.
So taking 5,000iu a day if you weigh 100 pounds is perfectly safe for the vast majority of people. I just finished studying a paper regarding prostate cancer and vitamin D, and while giving 40,000iu a day showed positive effects, it noted also there were absolutely NO adverse effects. NOT recommending that dose for athletes in a long term, but if MY D test comes back with a level of 10, or even 30 ng/ml, I would load for a few weeks with a higher dose, then settle back into a 10,000iu/day dose that keeps me at around 70 ng/ml. (I weigh 235 pounds, at 6’5″, AND I actively seek sun exposure when I can get it to help boost levels, AND I have been testing my levels for years.)
Bottom Line: The difference in being on the step and in the stands is a matter of just a tiny percent of the overall score.
Often the two top finishers have to actually have a 1-arrow shootoff, they are so close! If you can give your athlete even a “measily” 1% enhancement in her performance by insuring good vitamin D levels for free, how can you justify NOT doing that? And since a year’s supply of vitamin D 5,000iu capsules costs less than $20 at most pharmacies, athletes living where the sun isn’t strong enough can still be competitive in their MNL blood levels for less than the cost of a single night out on the town. (hmm, maybe not the best cost example to compare to)
If you want still more information, I recommend the non-profit Vitamin D Council’s website, and I have accumulated a host of studies over the last 8 or 9 years on my own website so that I can refer to them when discussing this with other health professionals.