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Prospering with Plant-Based Paige: Importance of Vitamin D for Athletes (and Everyone Else)

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Prospering with Plant-Based Paige: Importance of Vitamin D for Athletes (and Everyone Else)

Whether it’s macrobiotics, Ayurvedic practices, raw food or food combining—I love finding ways to reduce stress and increase energy. I’ll take my research and obsession with freshness and nutrient density, and turn them into approachable tips to help you prosper. Regardless if you are plant-based or not, I hope to help you reach optimal wellness with the most up-to-date information on healthy living.

Vitamin D has been a hot topic lately and for good reason! Vitamin D plays many important roles in our bodies ranging from regulating blood pressure, diminishing risk of heart disease, maintaining bone density and even immunity. With all of its important functions the scientific and health communities are giving this vitamin the recognition it deserves, especially with the growing number of people that are shown, especially in the northern latitudes who are not experiencing enough sunshine.

How vitamin D works in your body

For my fellow science lovers out there; vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin (along with A, E and K) meaning it is soluble in fats and oil and absorbed with ingested dietary fat. What makes Vitamin D unique is that it is the only vitamin that can be absorb from the sun and through food.

Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin upon exposure to sunlight, it is then metabolized in the liver and kidney it its active form 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D. You may have heard of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) which is photosynthesized in plants, mushrooms, and yeasts. Other dietary sources are called Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). You can find both D2 and D3 in foods and supplements. Nutritional doses of both D2 and D3 from food are equally effective in conversion to the active form in the body.1

Benefits of Vitamin D

Vitamin D has many essential roles in our health. Here are a few:

Bone Health

Bone health is crucial for keeping our bodies healthy in all stages of life. Vitamin D is essential for maintenance of bone mineralization through regulation of calcium and phosphorus into your bones. In other words, it assists in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus.  Deficiency is associated with osteopenia, precipitates and exacerbates osteoporosis, and increases muscle weakness.2

Calcium and Vitamin D: Together Build Stronger Bones

With all the bone health talk you may be thinking, “I thought that was calcium’s job!” In nutrition it is really important to remember that no nutrient works alone, which is why it is ideal to eat the most nutrient dense foods. Vitamin D actually promotes calcium absorption and helps maintain sufficient serum calcium concentrations. These two nutrients work together for a strong and healthy skeletal system.

Immune System Health

When we think of your immune system, vitamin C, zinc and echinacea tend to come to mind; there is good evidence that you should add vitamin D to that list. Cells of the immune system, regulatory T cells, dendritic cells and macrophages, synthesize and respond to vitamin D.3 Adults with appropriate levels of vitamin D are less likely to have coughs, colds and respiratory tract infections.4  In the past when I’ve had colds I used to joke that the “sun would heal me” after a nice beach day; I may have been right (kind of)!

Vitamin D and Athletes

Those who train tend to put more wear and tear on their bodies and have a higher demand for nutrition in order to heal and repair. Vitamin D is said to be essential for muscle structure and function which is crucial for athletes. Deficiency in this vitamin is also said to have immediate effects on musculoskeletal which may increase the risk of injuries like stress fractures which is relevant to those that are training regularly. Recent studies are showing that deficiency may impact training quality, injury and illness frequency and duration, all factors that can influence athletic performance. 5

Sources of Vitamin D

One of the best ways to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D is through short unprotected (some exposed skin with no sunscreen) sun exposure 2 to 3 days a week. But don’t go overboard! You only need to be out about 5 to 20 minutes depending on your skin tone. Be sure to speak with your health care professional about what is right for you.

In your diet, plant-based foods like sun-exposed mushrooms and Vega One can contribute to your intake. Each serving of Vega One has 50% of your DV for vitamin D.

Don’t let the importance of this vitamin worry you into over supplementing or baking yourself in the sun. As part of your routine physical and blood work ask your health care professional to measure your levels of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D.  Vitamin D deficiencies are fairly common and should be an easy fix, if you are not eating a diet rich in vitamin D and/or are not getting outside often due to school or work it is worthwhile to get checked up. This goes double for the elderly, those with fat malabsorption disorders like Crohn’s disease or those living in temperate latitudes; as these are the populations most at risk for deficiency.

Next time you’re outside think of it as taking your vitamin! What’s your favorite outdoor activity to soak in vitamin D? Share a picture on Instagram by tagging #BestLifeProject to show me how you get your Daily Dose of Sun.

1. National Institutes of Health. (2014) Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Accessed on 4/7/15 from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
2. Holick MF (2006). The role of vitamin D for bone health and fracture prevention. Current Osteoporosis Report. 4(3):96-102.
3. Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine. 59(6): 881-886. Accessed on 3/25/15 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
4. Harvard School of Public Health. (2015). Vitamin D and Health. Accessed 4/2/15, from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/#vitamin-d-influenza-colds
5. Hamilton, B. (2011). Vitamin D and Athletic Performance: The Potential Role of Muscle. Accessed 4/2/15, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289217/

Paige Snyder

Paige Snyder works at Vega as a Regional Educator. She is a plant-based nutritionist who specializes in sport performance, stress management, and achieving your optimal weight. Paige is currently completing her Masters in Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and loves to develop raw dessert recipes.
Paige Snyder