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you train outdoors in a good climate? The word is going round, but still a lot of athletes and sports people do not know the answer. It is vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, available from health stores – or for free if you can train in a sunny climate exposing a lot of skin to the midday sun. Unfortunately the British Isles are


far north and cloudy, so we don’t get enough sun. Most of us, including many athletes, are short of vitamin D – even in the summer. In 2012 we had an excep- tionally bad summer, meaning vitamin D levels among the population are unusu- ally low. Athletes who train inside or use lots of sunscreen are particularly likely to have low blood levels of vitamin D: sunscreen blocks UVB rays from the sun, and it is these that make vitamin D in the skin.

BODY CONTROLS Vitamin D itself is a pre-hormone which is processed in the liver and kidney, and also in most organs and tissues of the

an you think of a powerful hormone that boosts athletic performance and is not only perfectly legal but also free if

body, into a potent hormone called 1,25 hydroxy vitamin D. Feedback mecha- nisms that control the processing of vitamin D ensure that the body does not get too much of this active product – but in fact, as noted above, most of us in the UK and other northern countries get too little vitamin D. This is because of our long winters, when the sun is not strong enough to make vitamin in the skin; because our cloudy summer weather blocks out sunshine; and be- cause cancer scares have instilled in us a fear of the sun. Diet is not the answer, because the

best balanced diet will not give you more than about 10 per cent of the opti- mal level of vitamin D.

APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE The East Germans and the Russians have known about the benefits of vitamin D for athletes since the 1930s, when knowledge of vitamin D and the ben- efits of sun in producing the vitamin was first discovered by science. Now, very late in the day, athletes in Europe, the US and other advanced industrial nations are beginning to learn about its benefits. Top athletes and football

“the vitamin D levels of 61 athletes from the worlds of rugby, soccer and horse racing were tested. two-thirds of them had inadequate blood levels of vitamin d in the winter months”

66 Read Sports Management online

The body will make vitamin D if bare, sunscreen-free skin is exposed to the sun

players have started taking vitamin D in the last two or three years, and based on the findings of scientific studies (more on that shortly), it’s possible that this will have made an important but unheralded contribution to the UK’s suc- cess in the Olympics – more important for the Brits than for other nationalities because of our climate. Critical observations and experiments

by Graham Close and colleagues at the Research Institute for Sport and Exer- cise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK show that vitamin D is important for muscle strength. They tested the vitamin D levels of 61 athletes from the worlds of rugby, soccer and horse racing. All the athletes were in full-time training or competing six days a week. Two-thirds of the athletes had inadequate blood levels of vitamin D in the winter months and only one athlete, a rugby player, had an optimal level. Two soccer players and two flat jockeys were severely deficient. The John Moores scientists went on to

test the athletic ability of one group of football players who took a daily dose of 5,000 IUs of vitamin D compared with another group of players who took a dummy tablet. After only eight weeks, the group taking vitamin D performed better in both a vertical jump test and a 10-metre sprint. This is a startling result for a trial that continued for a relatively short time and involved only 10 players. It has been written up in a recent article

Issue 1 2013 © cybertrek 2013


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