October 30, 2012

Sunshine vitamin increases muscular strength and speed

Vitamin D has been shown to help sportsmen jump higher

Can you think of a powerful hormone that boosts athletic performance and is not only perfectly legal but is free if you train outdoors in a good climate? The word is going round, but still a lot of athletes and keen sports people do not know the answer. It is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, free if you can train in a good sunny climate exposing plenty of skin to the midday sun. But this year we have had an exceptionally bad summer in the UK and Europe generally which means that vitamin D levels are unusually low. 

The East Germans and the Russians have known about the benefits of vitamin D for athletes since the 1930s when knowledge of vitamin D and benefits of sun in producing the vitamin was first discovered by science. Now, very late in the day, athletes in Europe, the US and other advanced industrial nations are beginning to learn about its benefits. Top athletes and football players have started taking vitamin D in the last two or three years and it may have made an important but unheralded contribution to our success in the Olympics – more important for us than others because of our cloudy climate.

“Top athletes and football players
now take vitamin D”

Critical observations and experiments by Graham Close and colleagues at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at John Moores University, Liverpool, show that vitamin D is important for muscle strength. They tested the vitamin D levels of 61 athletes from several sports: Rugby, soccer, and horse racing. All the athletes were in full time training or competing six days a week. Two thirds of the athletes had inadequate blood levels of vitamin D in the winter months and only one athlete, a rugby player, had an optimal level. Two soccer players and two flat jockeys were severely deficient.

The John Moores scientists went on to test the athletic ability of one group of football players who took a daily dose of 5,000 IUs of vitamin D compared with another group of players who took a dummy tablet. After only eight weeks the group taking vitamin D proved they were better in a vertical jump test and better in a 10 metre sprint. This is a startling result for a trial that continued for a relatively short time and involved only 10 players. It has been written up in a recent article in the Journal of Sport Sciences.

“The group taking vitamin D proved to be better in a jump test and a 10 metre sprint.” 

The John Moores result is news for us here in the UK but it should not be. In 1938 Russians reported that UV radiation treatment improved the speed of student atheletes by 7.4% in the 100m dash compared with athletes who had no radiation treatment. In 1944 Germans found that medical students irradiated twice a week for six weeks improved their performance on a bicycle ergometer by 13% compared with controls who showed no improvement.

But the benefits of vitamin D go way beyond muscular performance. Another important benefit for sports people is resistance to infection during the winter season when fitness often falls off as vitamin D levels plummet in those who do not take a supplement. Training is stressful and may make an athlete more subject to infection while vitamin D has been shown to protect against infections such as flu. The sunshine vitamin stimulates immunity and induces the formation of active molecules which defend against infection. 


“Fitness often falls off in winter as vitamin D levels plummet”

I have been campaigning to tell people about the benefits of vitamin D for some eight years. Last year I decided to establish The Vitamin D Company and we produce a microtablet that is tasteless and can be swallowed very easily, crunched or just left in the mouth to disperse in the saliva. It is suitable for vegetarians and all faiths and can be taken by all ages including small children.

These vitamin D products are available online from www.vitDco.com or by telephoning +44(0)7761379939. Sports people may expect to benefit from 5,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D a day, the dose used in the John Moores trial, and should aim to get their blood level of the vitamin up to at least 100 nmols (nanomoles) per liter. 

But remember the sun is free - so enjoy it. If you get at least half an hour of full sun on bare shoulders, arms and legs three or four times a week in the middle of the day in summer you need not take any vitamin D until the days shorten in October