Multiple studies have found that most people are deficient in vitamin D, one of the essential vitamins that everyone—but especially athletes—need in order to function at their best. Athletes are even more at risk because a low level of vitamin D can be disastrous for bone health and injury recovery. And vitamin D not only protects bones by helping the body absorb calcium, it’s critically important for good immune health.
Sometimes called the sunlight vitamin, vitamin D can be absorbed in the skin through sun exposure. But athletes in northern climates will often struggle to get enough sunlight in winter months, and indoor athletes may miss out on sunlight year-round. Here, TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, shares a few easy ways to get enough vitamin D without resorting to supplements.
Get some sun
The simplest way to increase vitamin D levels is through sun exposure, says Ziesmer. A little goes a long way, though. Even when using SPF designed to filter out the UVB rays that help the body produce vitamin D, you’ll still be exposed to low amounts of UVB rays—so don’t skip sunscreen for the sake of getting vitamin D! Just ensure that you’re spending 30 minutes each day in the sunshine during the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the warm months. However, if you don’t have a lot of sunshine where you are, do not substitute a tanning bed to get sun exposure! Instead, focus on adding more vitamin D-rich foods to your diet.
Add Vitamin D-rich foods
Getting vitamin D from the sun is far better and more efficient than from food. However, it is possible to get enough vitamin D from food with proper planning.
Vitamin D is available in a variety of foods and the general recommended intake is roughly 600 IUs per day for young adults. A quick word about using fish for vitamin D: The vitamin D a salmon contains can, unfortunately, vary wildly depending on how the fish was raised or where it was caught, so while eating fatty fish is a great way to get vitamin D, adding other foods rich in the vitamin will help ensure that you’re getting enough.