The nutrient every runner needs (and almost no one gets)

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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 (VO2-max), 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.

READ: Why vitamin D is important for runners

Optimise your vitamin D

Find your number

See if you can get your vitamin D levels tested at your next visit to the doctor. Optimal serum levels typically fall between 50 to 100 nmol/L.

Sunbathe 

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 (such as salmon, tuna, sardines - aim for two 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.

READ: 6 nutrition tips for better bone health

Additional reporting by Debbie Fetter