Is a lack of basic vitamins causing you to lose gains?
Pull up your chairs and get ready for class: We’re talkin’ about the D.
Vitamin D that is.
We’ll dig into the role of Vitamin D and more specifically, why getting more of it is essential to optimizing health, maximizing gym performance, and looking great naked.
Nearly every cell in your body has receptors for good reason: It’s damn important essential to your health, longevity, appearance, and performance.
Amongst many functions, vitamin D ensures the regulation of calcium and phosphorus absorption, maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, and has a protective effect against the flu, some types of cancer, type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, decreased immunity and dementia.
And here’s the problem: As much as 85% or about 270+ million people in the US are deficient.
It’s a safe bet that unless you live in a Sunny climate like Florida or Southern Cali AND spend 30 minutes outside without sunscreen you’re probably deficient.
So, what is it?
Although classified as a vitamin, vitamin D acts more like a hormone. You can consume small amounts via food, but it’s more of a hormone that’s produced by your skin from sun exposure.
“Should I Supplement?”
Unless you’re hangin’ out in a warm coastal city getting 30 minutes of sun, then Yes.
As with any vitamin, mineral, or macronutrient, it’s best to get as much through natural sources as possible.
But this speaks to another problem: very few foods actually contain Vitamin D.
For absorption, sunlight is your best option, but even during winter months, the sun in many of U.S. Southern states isn’t strong enough to provide adequate levels.
In the United States, many foods like orange juices, yogurt, butter, and breakfast cereals are fortified. Still, unless you’re eating these foods in mass quantities like having them for breakfast and Brinner (my fav) with 30 minutes of exposure each day, you’re probably deficient.
The richest and most natural food sources of are fish oil and fatty fish. If you’re not crushing salmon on the regular, then look for a fish or cod liver oil like Carson’s.
How much Vitamin D do you Need?
Numbers vary greatly by each organization so I reached out to my friends at Precision Nutrition to see their recommendations.
“The total requirement is about 4000 IU/day to keep 25(OH)D levels above and/or around 100 nmol/L. Treating deficiency can require more. To normalize stores, adults require 3000-5000 IU per day for 6 to 12 weeks (1).”
Sounds good to me.
Vitamin D and Longevity:
Vitamin D is essential to staying alive and living a healthy life.
A long-term meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials found that supplementation significantly reduced total mortality (2).
That means Vitamin D keeps you kickin’ longer.
Vitamin D and Heart Health
The Health Professional Follow-Up Study checked the blood levels in nearly 50,000 men who were healthy, and then followed them for 10 years (4). They found that men who were deficient in were twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who had adequate levels.
Other studies have found that levels were associated with higher risk of heart failure, sudden cardiac death, stroke, overall cardiovascular disease, and cardiovascular death.
If you want a happy ticker and reduced risk of your heart exploding, then consider gettin’ the D.
Vitamin D and Cancer
Vitamin D may decrease incidences of cancer, specifically, colon cancer. Dozens of studies have dug into associations between low levels and increased risks of colon and other cancers. (3,6)
Given the high rates of deficiency in North America, the strong evidence for reduction of osteoporosis and fractures, the potential cancer-fighting benefits, many experts recommend widespread supplementation of 2000 IU per day. (3)
Vitamin D and Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases like MS are becoming more prevalent throughout the U.S. Some evidence points to Vitamin D decreasing the chance of autoimmune diseases like MS. One study found that those with the highest blood levels had a 62 percent lower risk of developing MS than those with the lowest levels.
Vitamin D and Looking Better Naked:
Most importantly, Vitamin D keeps you healthy and alive.
Without staying healthy (or alive) to train and eat well, you can kiss your sweet, sweet gains goodbye.
Vitamin D plays an important role in immune responses (including inflammation), and also appears to influence body fat mass, meaning how lean and jacked you are.
Vitamin D status is associated with body fat and insulin sensitivity in humans. (7) Even more, genetic differences in Vitamin D responsiveness and skin pigment may play a role in how it affects body composition.
If you want to look your best, then soaking up adequate sunshine is important.
Vitamin D and Athletic Performance:
As mentioned early, functions like an anabolic hormone. But this isn’t a sparkling new breakthrough– as far back as the 40’s German athletes were using UV lights during winter months to increase levels in the body.
With that said, studies and research on whether Vitamin D directly improves performance is mixed.
Anecdotally, any vitamin/hormone that decreases fat mass and improves nearly all health parameters will improve performance as a result of greater relative strength potential (less fat should give you a greater relative muscle mass for strength), and allow you to train longer and stay healthier– both of which indirectly improve performance.
So…What Kind is Best?
Sunlight and natural foods like fatty fish are best, but you’ll want to pick up a supplement to cover your bases. In that case, go with Vitamin D3.
In a recent study from Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) subjects took approximately 7,000 IU per day for 12 weeks. They reported in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that D3 was about 90% more potent at raising levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the storage form in the body than vitamin D2. (5)
When it doubt, get outside for 30 minutes per day, eat fatty fish, and get a high-quality Vitamin D3 supplement.
The Vitamin D Low-Down
Vitamin D has been a hot topic for years, yet many lifters neglect the behaviors (getting outside), nutrition (eating fatty fish), and supplementation to get adequate amounts. There are few supplements I recommend as staples, but Vitamin D is a superstar that deserves your attention.
References and Further Reading:
- Andrews, R. (2009). All About Vitamin D | Precision Nutrition. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-vitamin-d
- Autier P, Gandini S. Vitamin D supplementation and total mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(16):1730- 7.
- Garland CF, Gorham ED, Mohr SB, Garland FC. Vitamin D for cancer prevention: global perspective. Ann Epidemiol. 2009; 19:468-83.
- Giovannucci E, Liu Y, Hollis BW, Rimm EB. 25-hydroxyvitamin D and risk of myocardial infarction in men: a prospective study. Arch Intern Med. 2008; 168:1174-80.
- Heaney, R. P., et al, “Vitamin D3 Is More Potent Than Vitamin D2 in Humans,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(3): E447–52, 2011. – See more at: http://www.flexonline.com/nutrition/eating-right/vitamin-d-critical-muscle-size-and-strength#sthash.lkEGf0Jj.dpuf
- Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med. 2007; 357:266-81.
Yeh, J., Aloha, J. F., & Arunabh, S. (2003). Body fat content and 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in healthy women. Retrieved February 23, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12519845