I’m thinking today about one thing in particular, having today come across yet another study indicating the lack of a fundamental element of health in athletes. NCAA Athletes in Southern California…, wherein about one-third of these subjects are either deficient or insufficient in a fundamental nutrient which is critical for health and vital for peak athletic performance.
As with so many such studies, I feel the actual “situation” is much worse than it appears from that study as the typical researcher sets the bar far too low. In this study they called a vitamin D* blood level of ~32 ng/ml to be the desired level which is wrong. When mother nature is in control the blood level is actually nearly double that!
There are studies indicating that blood levels approaching 70 ng/ml (but no higher) yield positive changes in muscle performance. If they had set the bar to 50 ng/ml a far greater percentage would be insufficient/deficient!
TO QUOTE the authors of that study: “Recent studies have demonstrated a direct relationship between serum 25(OH)D levels and muscle power, force, velocity, and optimal bone mass. In fact, studies examining muscle biopsies from patients with low vitamin D levels have demonstrated atrophic changes in type II muscle fibers, which are crucial to most athletes. Furthermore, insufficient 25(OH)D levels can result in secondary hyperparathyroidism, increased bone turnover, bone loss, and increased risk of low trauma fractures and muscle injuries.” (Atrophic in this sense means the the more critical fast-twitch muscles fail to grow to potential during training – the exercise training is not having the desired effect.)
The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine: An IOC Medical Commission Publication, states very much the same thing, “maintaining adequate vitamin D blood levels may reduce risk for stress fracture, acute infection, inflammation, and impaired muscle function”. The”may” in that sentence is again a timid researcher avoiding responsibility.
What virtually no researcher will go on record saying, is WHAT the ideal blood level of vitamin D should be, always instead cautiously calling “for more research”. So why am I, a simple pharmacist and an archery coach, confident in calling for at least a blood level of FIFTY nanograms/ml (50 ng/ml)? Because 50 is the natural, optimal, desirable blood level in humans. I know this because, if you take ANY person of ANY skin complexion, and put them firmly in the sun’s grasp (ie, scant clothing and NO sunscreen) close to the solar noon, in Austin, Texas during the spring, summer, and even early fall, that athlete will generate enough vitamin D in as little as 15 minutes to an hour, to achieve a blood level of ~50 ng/ml. That’s mother nature, evolutionary process for millions of years, at work.
Darker skin requires more UV-B, lighter skin less exposure so the times will vary BUT what is obvious is that the body generates vitamin D in response to sun exposure, as a means of providing health. Mother Nature says 50 ng/ml is optimal, in other words. Some studies in athletes do show improved performances going to 60-70 ng/ml, but I have yet to find any speaking to > 70 ng/ml. Some people will have issue with my choice of “Mother Nature” as the controlling entity, so let me say it differently by paraphrasing the words of one of the foremost authorities in the world on vitamin D effects, Dr. John Cannell: “God designed us, God gave us the ability to respond to God’s sunshine, to generate our personal health. It is clear to me that in order to be healthy we must not shun that which God designed. That does not mean we promptly go out and get sunburned to a crisp, but that we act in accordance and prudence to treat our bodies as our temple, with the respect God demands.”
Yes, coaches must focus on the sport in their mentoring, but I also feel the good coach must address in an appropriate way those “outside” elements like diet, sleep, hydration, nutrition (not the same as diet), and yes, sun exposure & vitamin D acquisition.
By the way, the athletes in that study I started out with, where 1/3 to 1/2 were deficient? They lived and exercised in “sunny” southern California where they had a superb opportunity to get adequate sunshine (but obviously were not)! Know that the further the athlete lives from the equator the less sun intensity they will receive. For example if those athletes were in Chicago, New York, Seattle, etc., the number of months of the year where “good sun” could happen would be far, far fewer and they’d be more deficient. That means that the study looked at a “best-case scenario” where the athletes were MOST LIKELY TO HAVE GOOD LEVELS, yet even they came up short by a significant number. That study, were it done in any university north of the Red River in Texas, would show far more deficiency. Period. Thought: where do YOU coach your athletes – how far north (or south) of the equator?
Safety? People are admitted to the ER on a daily basis for overdose of “multivitamins” and iron tablets, which can actually cause death. Yet, there is an astonishing absence in the literature for any cases of the over-the-counter, inexpensive vitamin D anywhere causing any kind of overdose! Vitamin D can be accurately said to be safer than water, since more people are admitted with life-threatening “water intoxication” than ever for vitamin D overdose! In my own professional opinion, multivitamins are never to be recommended to an athlete. Never. That’s right – as a pharmacist I quit recommending every vitamin aside from D years ago. Pardon my Texan but multivitamins are just plain bullsh*t. Even the AMA recently proclaimed an absence of science to justify multivitamins.
Just so we are clear: vitamin D is not a vitamin. Vitamins are substances humans must take internally (eat) because they cannot make it, that are necessary for health. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a good example – without it your teeth fall out and you die. You can’t make vitamin C, so you should drink a margarita often. (Or, maybe some orange juice or other citrus). But “vitamin D”? You make it! Therefore, it is NOT a vitamin. But just call it one to avoid distress.
To help you arrive at your own dosing regimen I can share what I do for myself: I take vitamin D based on the formula of 1,000iu per day for every 25 pounds of body weight, always rounding “up”, so for 100 pounds a 5,000iu capsule (commonly marketed) is logical to me, and at 6’5″ and 235 pounds, I usually take 10,000iu per day unless I get some “good” sun which I would rather do than take a pill. Being a health professional, I also get tested at least once a year for my 25(OH)D level, and it’s always between 50 and 70 ng/ml, depending on the time of year – runs higher in the summer because I try to also get routine sun exposure to boost my levels “naturally”. Why “round up”? Your body will not activate the D3 into 25(OH)D unless it needs it. Taking a small amount extra insures that your body stores away some vitamin D for when it needs extra. If you break a bone, your D levels actually disappear! If you acquire an infection, your body converts D into cathelicidin (google it). If YOU TRAIN HARD, your body uses it to reduce inflammation and help build muscle to recover better, to actually achieve supercompensation. If you have excessive body weight, your needs do go up as well. For any other elite athlete, I would do as I did with my daughter – dose per my guideline, then get a blood level to make sure you can “check off” this concern, and then deal with other things, knowing you’ve done the right thing and that base is covered. She won’t get sick as often, won’t risk injury as much, and will benefit to the max from training.
If you are not an athlete, everything regarding D still applies. If you are an athlete, vitamin D can be that which allows you to focus on the top step, instead of trying to breathe through a sinus infection while you draw down on the X.
* I call it Vitamin D throughout this article – what is measured is actually the active form of the chemical, 25(OH)D , which your body makes from regular, over-the counter vitamin D3 aka cholecalciferol. Incidentally, what you body makes from the sun’s rays is the same cholecalciferol as the capsules you can buy and take when the sun isn’t available. Sun is better, but the capsule is vitally better than going without.
Vitamin D3 is available in a variety of strengths, over the counter, in drug stores and big box outfits like Costco and Sams, as well as online. Don’t waste your time with anything less than 5,000iu capsules and be careful online with your source. I see prices of $17 for 300+ capsules of 5,000iu at Costco. Years ago, I started buying from BioTech directly over the net because 5,000iu caps weren’t yet available, and I supply *every* extended family member that wants it. 50,000iu D3 caps allow for a less-than-every-day dosing regimen. I do not like it, as a pharmacist I know that people forget to take meds, and missing once a week can be pretty important. Missing a daily dose, not such a big impact. Also, you can refine your dosing a little more easily with daily dosing. Some might take 10,000iu one day, 5,000iu the next, alternating…. All good.
Cover your bases, coaches.