Is Vitamin D a 'sleeper nutrient'?
Vitamin D once was thought to be primarily involved in bone development. But a growing body of research suggests that it’s vital in multiple different bodily functions, including allowing body cells to utilize calcium (which is essential for cell metabolism), muscle fibers to develop and grow normally, and the immune system to function properly.The most interesting study referenced in that article above
“Almost every cell in the body has receptors” for Vitamin D, Anderson says. “It can up-regulate and down-regulate hundreds, maybe even thousands of genes,” Larson-Meyer says. “We’re only at the start of understanding how important it is.” But many of us, it seems, no matter how active and scrupulous we are about health, don’t get enough Vitamin D. Nowadays, “many people aren’t going outside very much,” Johnson says, and most of us assiduously apply sunscreen and take other precautions when we do.
Although few studies have looked closely at the issue of Vitamin D and athletic performance, those that have are suggestive. A series of strange but evocative studies undertaken decades ago in Russia and Germany, for instance, hint that the Eastern Bloc nations may have depended in part on sunlamps and Vitamin D to produce their preternaturally well-muscled and world-beating athletes. In one of the studies, four Russian sprinters were doused with artificial, ultraviolet light. Another group wasn’t. Both trained identically for the 100-meter dash. The control group lowered their sprint times by 1.7 percent. The radiated runners, in comparison, improved by an impressive 7.4 percent.
When researchers tested the vertical jumping ability of a small group of adolescent athletes, Larson-Meyer says, “they found that those who had the lowest levels of Vitamin D tended not to jump as high,”
A number of recent studies also have shown that, among athletes who train outside year-round, maximal oxygen intake tends to be highest in late summer, Johnson says. The athletes, in other words, are fittest in August, when ultraviolet radiation from the sun is near its zenith. They often then experience an abrupt drop in maximal oxygen intake, beginning as early as September, even thought they continue to train just as hard. This decline coincides with the autumnal lengthening of the angle of sunlight. Less ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth and, apparently, sports performance suffers.
Sunlight is one easy, if controversial, fix. “Most dermatologists will still tell you that no amount of sun exposure is safe,” Johnson says. But Larson-Meyer and other Vitamin D researchers aren’t so sure. “There’s no good, scientific evidence that five to thirty minutes of sunlight a few times a week is harmful,” she says. Or try supplements. “1,000 IU a day and much more for people who are deficient” is probably close to ideal, Larson-Meyer says. This, by the way, is about double the current recommended daily allowance. Most experts anticipate that this allowance will be revised upward soon. Consult with your doctor before beginning supplements. Overdoses of Vitamin D are rare, but can occur. Finally, stay tuned. “In the next few years, we’re going to be learning much more” about the role of vitamin D in bodily function and sports performance, Larson-Meyer says.
PURPOSE: Activated vitamin D (calcitriol) is a pluripotent pleiotropic secosteroid hormone. As a steroid hormone, which regulates more than 1000 vitamin D-responsive human genes, calcitriol may influence athletic performance. Recent research indicates that intracellular calcitriol levels in numerous human tissues, including nerve and muscle tissue, are increased when inputs of its substrate, the prehormone vitamin D, are increased.
METHODS: We reviewed the world's literature for evidence that vitamin D affects physical and athletic performance.
RESULTS: Numerous studies, particularly in the German literature in the 1950s, show vitamin D-producing ultraviolet light improves athletic performance. Furthermore, a consistent literature indicates physical and athletic performance is seasonal; it peaks when 25-hydroxy-vitamin D [25(OH)D] levels peak, declines as they decline, and reaches its nadir when 25(OH)D levels are at their lowest. Vitamin D also increases the size and number of Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Most cross-sectional studies show that 25(OH)D levels are directly associated with musculoskeletal performance in older individuals. Most randomized controlled trials, again mostly in older individuals, show that vitamin D improves physical performance.
CONCLUSIONS: Vitamin D may improve athletic performance in vitamin D-deficient athletes. Peak athletic performance may occur when 25(OH)D levels approach those obtained by natural, full-body, summer sun exposure, which is at least 50 ng x mL(-1). Such 25(OH)D levels may also protect the athlete from several acute and chronic medical conditions.
Of course, it makes it clear that this is a "may improve" issue, and that this probably only applies to people who are Vitamin D deficient. Exactly what that means isn't clear. I suspect most cyclists aren't in much danger, our tan-lines suggest plenty of sunlight, but over winter when we train indoors etc?
It's certainly interesting!