The Nutrient Every Runner Needs (and Almost No One Gets)

Vitamin D is a crucial part of overall health, performance and recovery.

Everyone, especially runners, needs vitamin D. It’s a key nutrient linked to a host of health and performance-related outcomes, including bone and muscle health, anti-inflammation, and heart health. Research has also suggested that vitamin D has the potential to optimise athletic performance.

Boost Endurance
Studies have shown that vitamin D may increase maximal oxygen uptake (VO
2max), which is an indicator for endurance capacity. This could mean having proper vitamin D stores can lead to more successful long runs. 

Enhance Muscle Recovery
In order to train for long periods of time, runners need to be able to recover quickly. Studies have found that vitamin D helps with muscle recovery and reduces some inflammatory markers. 

Increase Muscle Force
Building muscle is important for runners to get stronger. There have been mixed findings as to whether vitamin D aids in strengthening muscles. But some research has suggested that vitamin D increases muscle force and power output in vitamin D-deficient individuals.  

Despite its importance, nearly everyone falls short in their vitamin D intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is 600 IU (15 ug). Deficiency can lead to depression, muscle weakness, and a greater likelihood of bone disorders. Runners are especially at risk for deficiency because of their increased use of vitamin D during exercise. 

Unlike many other vital nutrients, there are only a few ways to get vitamin D: we can make it after sun exposure, and get it through food and supplementation. Vitamin D is found in certain plants, but the more bioavailable form is found in animal products. 


Find Your Number
Test your vitamin D levels at your next doctor visit. Optimal serum levels typically fall between 50 to 100 nmol/L.

Get Some Sun 
Spend five to 20 minutes in the sun two to three times a week to make the more bioactive form of vitamin D. But be sure to slather on sunscreen. Your body can still produce vitamin D from the sun even with sunscreen use, which helps prevent skin cancer.

Eat and Drink
Stock up on vitamin D-rich foods, including fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish, sardines – aim for two 110g servings a week), egg yolks, fortified milk, fortified cereal, fortified orange juice and mushrooms. If you rarely eat these foods, you can take a vitamin D3 supplement. But avoid consuming more than 2,000 IU per day, since too much vitamin D can be harmful.

Don’t Forget Vitamin K and Calcium
These nutrients work together with vitamin D to promote bone health. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, and calcium is found in dairy products, tofu, and fortified orange juice.

– Additional reporting by Debbie Fetter


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