Vitamin D: even pro athletes can be deficient

Got vitamin D?

Summer is prime time for vitamin D production in our skin.  That is, if you are out in the sun, not in an air conditioned building or car.  And not wearing sun screen.  And have lighter toned skin, especially if you live father north.  Summer is also time for pro football training camps to start, and some of those players might want to pay attention to a new study on vitamin D status in professional football players.

In Spring 2010, 89 players from an unnamed team were evaluated for blood vitamin D status during the pre-season physical exams.  Statistics on time lost due to muscle injuries in the previous season were compared to players’ vitamin D levels.  Out of those 89 players, only 17 had sufficient blood levels of vitamin D;  27 were outright deficient.  In other words, in a group of highly trained, physically fit guys, average age 25 years, less than 20% had enough vitamin D, even using the very low cut off point of 32 ng/ml as “sufficient”.  Many vitamin D experts believe this number should be 50 ng/ml.

When the players’ vitamin D status was categorized according to skin color, the average level for white players was just over 30 ng/ml.  For African American players, the average was 20.4, just at the “deficient” cut off point.  For the 16 players identified as suffering a muscle injury, the average level was just under 20 ng/ml — deficient.

We think of vitamin D as helping to keep bones strong, among other things, but this study suggests that vitamin D is related to muscle injury as well.  If any group needs to reduce risk for muscle injury, it’s professional athletes.  But most pro athletes are extremely physically fit young men.  Trainers, coaches and fans might assume those guys would have no reason to worry about something mundane like vitamin D status.  They might assume wrong.

This study did not examine whether raising vitamin D levels in those deficient athletes would prevent muscle injuries.  It’s possible there was something else about the diet or metabolism of deficient players that set them up for both low vitamin D and muscle injuries.  But I’m guessing the trainers and coaches for that particular team are motivated to be sure all the players have optimal blood vitamin D, whether they get it from sunshine, food or supplements.  There are plenty of other health reasons to ensure that players have enough of an essential nutrient.

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