Sunny Secret: How Getting More Vitamin D Boosts Athletic Prowess and Builds Stronger Bones

Elite athletes are often considered to be the fittest and most well-nourished individuals. However, many of them don’t get enough of one critical nutrient, essential for their bones – vitamin D. Surprisingly, a significant number of seemingly healthy people also lack this vital nutrient.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), one out of every three Division I college athletes have insufficient levels of vitamin D. This deficiency can cause issues as people age, with bone density and muscle strength being affected. USC researcher Diego Villacis, M.D., explains the impact of this deficiency: “Recent studies also have demonstrated that vitamin D levels have a direct relationship with muscle power, force, velocity, and optimal bone mass.”

The importance of vitamin D

Scientists measured the bioavailable vitamin D levels in the blood of more than 200 male and female National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes to understand the impact of this deficiency. Despite the sun generally being strong enough for the skin to synthesize vitamin D during summer months, 33.6% of athletes were found to be insufficient or deficient. Men were found to be three times more likely to experience a deficiency, and those with darker skin tones were also more at risk.

Misguided advice on avoiding sun exposure and applying sunscreen during peak sunlight hours contributes to this deficiency, as this is when the ultraviolet light necessary to produce vitamin D is strongest. Limited exposure to sunlight without sunscreen (approximately 20 minutes) is crucial for ensuring your body is producing enough vitamin D. The further north one lives or the closer it is to winter, remains a factor influencing the amount of sunlight your body receives to prompt vitamin D production.

Natural food sources of vitamin D

Besides sunlight, it’s vital to consume vitamin D through natural food sources. Animal products, including fish such as salmon and sardines, are rich in this nutrient. It’s important to opt for naturally occurring sources instead of artificially fortified options like vitamin D enriched milk.

Eggs, especially from pasture-raised chickens, are a significant source of vitamin D. Chickens raised outdoors are exposed to direct sunlight, allowing them to produce three to six times more vitamin D than their counterparts, which are raised in confinement.

Incorporating these food sources into your diet and ensuring you get enough sun exposure during daylight hours will set you on the path to stronger bones and improved muscle performance.