We are into the last month of our UK winter and I am feeling pretty sluggish, but spring is just around the corner- yay!!. I’m not sure if it is the stress of lockdown life or compounding effects of other stressors. So I am taking this opportunity to evaluate what I am putting on my plate. To ensure my body has all the necessary nutrients to repair and support everyday wellness including vitamin D.
As my training for Race to the Stones starts to ramp up, I am also conscious of the need to recover quicker and more effectively. The main focus of any training plan should be to avoid injury and be as prepped (physically, mentally and nutritionally) for the next training session and, ultimately, the race itself.
Are you absorbing enough Vitamin D to support your training, recovery and everyday wellness?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions like a steroid hormone in the body. Generally 90% of our vitamin D comes from sunlight and the remaining 10% from food. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and maintain magnesium and phosphate concentrations. These three nutrients are important for your teeth, muscles, and bones. It also plays crucial roles in brain development, nerve signals, heart function, your immune system, and mental health. Read more.
It is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the UK have low Vitamin D levels and, for most, this becomes more evident during the winter months with the reduced exposure to sunlight. A daily lunchtime walk in the winter would go a long way to improving this. As the sun gets higher in the sky, it becomes a balance between exposure and sun safety. During the summer months it is considered that we only need 9 minutes of lunchtime sunlight a day (skin exposed so get those shorts and t-shirts on) to absorb a sufficient amount of vitamin D. If you are exercising outdoors during the summer, do read my blog on how to safely ‘Exercise during a heatwave’.
In terms of training and recovery, it is evident that more research is needed; especially in the younger population. If you are looking to understand how vitamin D may influence muscle recovery and performance more? Check this research review for further information.
What is notable, however, is the signs of a vitamin D deficiency and how symptoms show as physical and mental limitations.
What are the signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?
- Bone pain known as osteomalacia
- Muscle weakness, muscle aches, or muscle cramps. Including delayed post-exercise recovery.
- Mood changes, like depression. Our bodies need vitamin D to effectively make serotonin in the brain.
- Head sweats are a common sign of vitamin D deficiency (this is one reason new born babies are monitored for head sweats). A sweaty scalp could be an early sign of vitamin D deficiency.
- Low immune system
These symptoms can have an impact on your everyday wellness as well as impairing your ability to train and recover optimally. Do consult your GP or a nutritionist if you think that you may have low Vitamin D levels.
During the months of October to March, the majority of people should increase their dietary sources of Vitamin D as well as getting outside as much as possible. Dietary sources include:
- oily fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards, trout, herring, kippers and eel contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D
- cod liver oil contains a lot of vitamin D, but don’t take this if you are pregnant
- egg yolk, meat, offal and milk contain small amounts but this varies during the seasons
- wild mushrooms or mushrooms grown under UV light (most commercial mushrooms are grown in the dark and aren’t exposed to UV light, which means that they likely contain very little vitamin D).
- fortified Vitamin D sources are especially useful for vegetarian and vegan diets. These include margarine, some breakfast cereals, infant formula milk, alternative milks, meat alternatives and some yoghurts. These products have had Vitamin D added during production.
At risk groups of low Vitamin D levels should consider supplementing their diet for complete wellness. This should be done with the guidance of the GP or nutritionist as taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can cause too much calcium to build up in the body (hypercalcaemia). This can weaken the bones, and damage the kidneys and the heart.
At risk groups of low Vitamin D levels include:
- infants and children aged <5 years
- pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly teenagers and young women
- older people aged >65 years
- people who have no or limited exposure to the sun of sufficient intensity to induce cutaneous vitamin D synthesis, including people who:
- cover their skin for cultural reasons
- are confined indoors
- live in Scotland and Northern England
- individuals who have darker skin (e.g. people of African, African-Caribbean, or South Asian ethnic origin).
- Data source