Athletes: Is Vitamin D Supplementation Right for You?


Could taking your athletic performance to the next level be as simple as adding another cup of low-fat milk, eating an extra serving of fatty fish or popping a calcium with Vitamin D chew?

In addition to creating healthy bones, Vitamin D’s role in your body includes assisting in new cell growth, proper functioning of the muscle and nervous system, maintaining a healthy immune system and reducing inflammation.  Yet 77% of U.S. adults are vitamin D deficient according to data collected by the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES III) data.  Findings suggest that vitamin D levels in athletes are comparable to the general population, with increased rates of deficiency occurring in those who largely train indoors such as hockey, gymnasts and basketball players.  Muscle weakness, bone loss and injury, chronic inflammation and impaired training due to frequent illness can significantly cripple your sports season.

Understandably, one vitamin is not going to make up for lack of training, inadequate rest, or poor nutrition, but if you’re an athlete, looking to maximize your athletic performance, could Vitamin D supplementation be right for you?  Here’s a few slices from research to get you thinking.  A 20% reduction in the incidence of stress fractures was found in female navy recruits who were given 800 IU/day of Vitamin D for 8 weeks as compared to a placebo group.  An increase in the amount and size of type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers was found in individuals with previously low vitamin D status when supplemented.  Newer research focusing on Vitamin D’s role on enhancing VO2max and reducing the inflammation response in athletes is also promising.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and Upper Tolerable Limit are listed below.



Males & Females

Upper Tolerable Limit

13-18 years

400 IU

4000 IU

1-70 years

600 IU

4000 IU

>70 years

800 IU

4000 IU

Many experts consider the RDA to be set too low and suggest at least 1000 IU per day in adults.  Their claims are based on the desire to not only maintain adequate daily levels in circulation, but to provide for Vitamin D storage in muscle and fat for future use.

Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods and beverages, but is added to many.  The table below lists amounts found in common food sources.  Vitamin D is also produced by sun exposure on skin and requires a healthy functioning liver and kidneys to convert it into a useable form by the body.

Food Serving IU
Salmon 3 ounces 447
Tuna Fish 3 ounces 154
Orange Juice with Vit D 1 cup 137
Milk 1 cup 115-124
Yogurt 6 ounces 80
Margarine 1 Tbsp 60
Egg 1 141
Cereal ¾ cup 40

Source: National Institute of Health, Vitamin D Fact Sheet

Vitamin D does have the potential to impact your performance by improving your bone health, assisting in muscle contraction, maintaining electrolyte balance (through it’s regulation of calcium) and supporting a healthy immune system so make sure your intake is adequate be it food or supplementation.  Always share your use of vitamin and mineral supplementation with your physician and ask for a periodic 25(OH)D level assessment if you are concerned about your ability to maintain adequate storage of this vitamin.


Ogan, D.; Pritchett, K.  Vitamin D and the Athlete: Risks, Recommendations and Benefits. Nutrients 2013, 5, 1856-1868; doi:10.3390/nu5061856

Lappe, J.: Cullen, D.; Haynatzki G.; Recker, R.; Ahlf.; Thompson, K. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation decreased incidence of stress fractures in female navy recruits. J.Bone Miner. Res. 2008, 23, 741-749

Ceglisa, L.; Harris, S.S. Vitamin D and its role in skeletal muscle.  Calcif. Tissue Int. 2013, 92, 151-162.

Categories: Sports Nutrition

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1 reply

  1. Vitamin D supplementation is deadly needed for us because it has no alternative sources thus we can fulfill our body’s requirement of vitamin D. As it is synthesized from sun and works in our body as an active hormone, so we shouldn’t think to skip taking vitamin D. We can use vitamin D patch also if we want to a safe way of ensuring vitamin D.


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