A person's dietary and supplement strategies greatly influence sports performance. It bears true for all ages, ethnicities, and levels of skill, regardless of whether the goal is optimizing physical activity for health and fitness or training for high-performance sports. It is also well recognized that athletic performance is determined by multiple factors, including both genetic and environmental influences. In recent years, Vitamin D has been proposed as a potential performance-enhancing factor when present in abundance, and a performance-limiting factor when in deficiency.
The vitamin D receptor gene provides instructions for making a protein called vitamin D receptor (VDR), which allows the body to respond to vitamin D.
Vitamin D's reach across the body is far and wide. Its receptor exists in pretty much all the tissues, and it's probably there for a reason. Vitamin D has a well-established role in improving bone health and has also been associated with the prevention of a wide array of non-skeletal, autoimmune, and chronic diseases.
How Does Vitamin D Work and Its Impact on Athletic Performance?
Vitamin D has long been recognized as important in maintaining calcium homeostasis and bone metabolism within the body. Unlike authentic vitamins, which cannot be synthesized in the body, Vitamin is produced in the skin using sunlight. When Vitamin D binds to its receptor that is located throughout the body, the complex goes to the nucleus and affects the transcription of genes.
In muscle cells, this process affects genes related to calcium metabolism as well as genes involved in muscle cell development and proliferation. Also, some mutations in the vitamin D receptor are correlated with changes in muscle strength.
Given the role of vitamin D in bone health and its association with chronic disease reduction, immunity, inflammation, and muscle function, vitamin D has the potential to influence physical and athletic performance. Research comparing individuals with sufficient levels to insufficient or deficient levels of Vitamin D has shown that it helps to prevent injury, promote larger type II muscle fiber size, reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of acute respiratory illness enhance functional rehabilitation, thereby optimizing recovery and acute adaptive responses to intense training through reduced inflammation and increased blood flow.
Benefits of Vitamin D
For athletes, there are more potential health benefits, as well as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. Let's look at the benefits of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D promotes intestinal calcium absorption and helps maintain adequate blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which is necessary for healthy bone mineralization. It also helps stave off osteoporosis, rickets, and other bone diseases that cause soft bones, bone loss, and bone pain.
Vitamin D may curb your chances of certain cancers, like colon, breast, and prostate. Studies show that rates are even better when paired with calcium and vitamin D supplementation of 1000 IU per day can reduce cancer risk by 60%.
An adequate amount of vitamin D intake may support good immune function and reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases. Researchers believe that there may be a link between long-term vitamin D deficiency and the development of autoimmune conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, but more research is necessary to confirm the link.
Regulate mood and reduce depression
The sun can brighten up your mood, and so can vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression.
Signs of vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly recognized in modern youth and is now endemic in many communities, with athletes not being spared. While the majority of people with a vitamin D deficiency may not present with symptoms, however, a chronic deficiency may cause hypocalcemia, calcium deficiency disease, and hyperparathyroidism. These conditions can lead to secondary symptoms, all of which are important for athletic performance.
Fatigue and tiredness
Feeling tired can stem from several causes, one of which may be vitamin D deficiency. Because vitamin D is key to bone health, an insufficient amount can cause bone and muscle weakness, which can lead to fatigue, negatively affecting athletes. Interestingly, several studies show that supplementing with this vitamin may reduce the severity of fatigue in people with a deficiency.
Frequent illness or infections
Vitamin D has one of the most important roles in supporting the immune system. It helps in regulating immune function and inhibiting inflammatory reactions. Vitamin D is also helpful in warding off viruses and bacteria that cause illness.
Slow wound healing
Impaired wound healing after sports injury may be a sign of low vitamin D levels. Studies suggest that vitamin D increases the production of compounds that are crucial for forming new skins as part of the wound-healing process.
Vitamin D's role in controlling inflammation and addressing infections may also be important for proper healing.
Bone and joint pain
Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and bone metabolism as discussed above. A deficiency may lead to loss of bone mass that can trigger bone and joint pain.
Nonetheless, adequate vitamin D intake may be a good strategy to protect your bone mass and reduce fracture risk.
Vitamin D and athletic performance
Athletes are always searching for a competitive edge, and evidence has shown the potential of vitamin D to make a difference in athletic performance. Given the relation of vitamin D to bone health, immunity, and inflammation, there is the potential of vitamin D to influence various athletic performance variables, namely strength, power, speed, cardiorespiratory fitness, reaction time, coordination, and body composition. Other positive impacts of vitamin D on many important biological functions include,
Improved oxygen rate
Studies reveal that an increased level of vitamin D in athletes shows a higher oxygen consumption rate, thus helping them breathe better to boost endurance levels.
Protect against stress fractures
Stress fractures can occur anywhere there is overuse. Vitamin D protects against overuse injuries, as it enhances bone and muscle strength. Moreover, emerging evidence suggests that athletes deficient in vitamin D are at a greater risk for stress fractures and reduced muscle function.
Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease
Vitamin D has received widespread attention for its potential role in preventing cardiovascular disease. When athletes have proper vitamin D levels, it enables their blood to circulate at a more effective rate, which strengthens their heart and can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research has shown that athletes who took vitamin D3 supplements saw an increase in their lean muscle mass and increased strength in the gym by 19% compared to those who didn't supplement.
Nutritional support for athletes
Whether you are a competing athlete, a weekend sports player, or a dedicated daily exerciser, vitamin D is important nutritional support they need to enhance performance. Here are some ways that can help increase vitamin D levels,
· Vitamin-D rich diet
The best way to get more vitamin D is from your diet. Food that is high in vitamin D includes fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, mushrooms, egg yolks, and fortified dairy and grains.
If your geographical location or an underlying health condition prevents you from absorbing enough, you may need a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so you may have to take this supplement with a dietary fat source (such as avocado, nuts, and seeds, or full-fat dairy products) to enhance absorption.
Our bodies produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. There are a few reasons why it's hard to get enough vitamin D this way. To reduce the risk of skin cancer, it's smart to cover up, wear sunscreen, and avoid being outside during peak sun hours.
Studies in vitamin D over the past several years have produced several new insights into vitamin D metabolism, mechanisms of action, and guidance for clinical applications. This has accumulated considerable interest in athletic populations with vitamin D supplementation now becoming routine in many sporting teams and individual athletes.
Vitamin D levels above the normal reference range might increase skeletal muscle function, decrease recovery time from training, increase both force and power production, and increase testosterone production, each of which could potentiate athletic performance. Therefore, maintaining higher levels of vitamin D could prove beneficial for athletic performance. Despite this situation, large portions of athletic populations are vitamin D deficient.
However, athletic performance at all levels is multi-factorial, and to date, there is limited evidence to support the proposition that Vitamin D deficiency is performance limiting or that maintenance of Vitamin D at supra-physiological levels will result in enhanced muscle development and performance.
Future research should concentrate on understanding how the amounts of 'bioavailable vitamin D' can be optimized, improving our knowledge of the autocrine and paracrine activities of the vitamin, and how genetic and epigenetic factors like training, aging, and diet might alter vitamin activity.