Many of us know that getting out for our daily run in the sun is good for our health (and sanity!). But how does the sunshine vitamin help us as athletes?
This is the closest that we humans get to plants’ photosynthesis, converting UVB rays to Vitamin D in our liver. However, our skin and eyes are the only places that are able to absorb the sun for conversion and wearing sunglasses, clothing, and sunscreen will block that absorption. Interestingly, those of us living and training at altitude are at even greater risk of vitamin D deficiency despite being closer to the sun.
What is Vitamin D, exactly?
The sun isn’t the only place to get VITD. Most milk products (including some alternative milks) are fortified with it, and there are a few naturally occurring sources available in our diet with salmon and tuna as some of the highest contributors. Supplementation is also a good option, however, it is important to remember that VITD is fat soluble, so taking the supplements with food will help with its bioavailability.
The most familiar need for VITD is its support in calcium absorption. This is what helps build strong bones, vital in reducing mileage-related stress fractures as well as age-related loss of bone density.
Less familiar are Vitamin D’s actions as a hormone, signaling a variety of processes in the body, including protein synthesis, immune response, cell synthesis, and gene expression. Most importantly, VITD has a receptor in nearly every tissue, suggesting the importance of sufficient Vitamin D levels to our muscular function.
What does this mean for me?
There are some studies that show a correlation between VITD and fitness due to increased lung and cardiovascular function. Others show improvement in lean muscle mass.
One reason we tend to see an uptick in colds and flu in the winter months is that we tend to be deficient in Vitamin D. Recent studies show that adequate serum VITD levels can not only increase both our innate and adaptive immune response but also show an increased incidence of asymptomatic COVID-19.
Vitamin D has also been shown to boost mood, reduce anxiety, and promote the healthy regulation of cognitive function which includes learning and making memories.
If it sounds like Vitamin D is the latest miracle supplement, it kind of is. But don’t just jump in and begin taking it; Ask your doctor to check vitamin D levels during your next blood draw. While three quarters of the population are deficient, having too much can also cause problems.
But in the meantime, soak up all of that Autumn sunshine you can to boost your health and happiness.