Is Your Youth Athlete Getting Enough Vitamin D for Peak Performance?
By Isabelle Attai, Certified Personal Trainer
Peak youth athletic performance depends in part on optimal levels of Vitamin D, and it is easy to ensure your children are receiving the right dose.
The Danger of Vitamin D Deficiency
Many people — young and old, athletic and not-so-athletic — are lacking in key nutrients such as Vitamin D and do not know it. According to NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), 77% of the general population may be deficient in Vitamin D, and most have no idea that this crucial hormone plays such a vital role in supporting the immune system as well as significantly increasing the body’s ability to absorb calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc.
Exposure to sunshine is a key part of nature’s Vitamin D factory for humans — evidence indicates that humans synthesize Vitamin D from sun exposure – however the cancer risk from excessive sun exposure limits most people’s unprotected exposure to sunlight. For those who live in locales where fall and winter limit unexposed outdoor time, the natural path to sun exposure and Vitamin D production is also limited. Even athletes who train outdoors on a regular basis and year-round can be Vitamin D deficient for many reasons. For example, while sun exposure does boost Vitamin D levels, sunscreen (which is certainly recommended) along with somewhat limited and unpredictable exposure, limit our ability to rely on sun exposure alone for optimal Vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D deficiency may result in muscle weakness, pain or discomfort, shaky balance, and low bone density that could lead to fractures. Deficiencies are also linked to asthma in children, fatigue, poor concentration and restless sleep, all of which impair sports performance and recovery. Experts agree that youth athletes are at risk and likely seeing the impact through suboptimal sports performance.
How to Get Sufficient Vitamin D for Peak Performance
Moms almost universally struggle with ensuring that our children are consuming a balanced diet consistently. Despite our best efforts, numerous challenges conspire to create an inconsistent and less than ideal eating regime or system for our kids — everything from them being picky eaters or having food allergies or sensitivities, to lack of time for food prep, to the rush to get the kids out the door on time for school or activities (which may result in skipping breakfast altogether).
Parents should ask themselves whether you know if your youth athlete is deficient in the nutrients necessary for peak performance. You would be surprised how easy it is to find out and correct any deficiency. According to South Florida pediatrician Dr. Marie Landry, pediatricians rarely test for vitamin deficiencies in children unless there is a specific, demonstrated medical need. But guess what? Your desire to have your youth athlete perform well on the field is not a specific, demonstrated medical need — and so the testing likely won’t happen unless you ask for it. You can remedy this by doing one of two things: Request and pay for a simple blood test at your doctor’s office; or begin supplementing your child’s diet by taking 1000 IU of Vitamin D.
Supplementing is easy, safe, and cost-effective. And it’s important — which is why milk advertisers often point out the milk is “enriched with vitamin D.” Keep in mind that Vitamin D levels in your kids’ bodies often change throughout the year depending on sunshine exposure and diet.
So, how much is enough? The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for ages 1-18 is 600IU, but experts agree that in the absence of adequate sun exposure, at least 1000 IU per day is optimal. Sometimes a higher daily dose (under a doctor’s supervision) is necessary to bring a patient up from a deficient state.
Whether you’re supplementing your kids (or yourself!) with vitamin D or not, consume foods rich in Vitamin D from fortified milk, cheese, fatty fish, fortified cereal, and eggs. My children experienced increased immune functions and quickly put aside any need for inhalers for exercise-induced asthma in only a few months after incorporating a high quality multi-vitamin for teens or children (containing 1000 IU of Vitamin D) into their daily regime.
As a Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach, Isabelle Attai prepares young athletes and their parents to improve eating lifestyles, increase energy, lose weight, and improve performance. Take a Free health assessment and discover a personalized path to a healthier, happier life. For more information, contact her at Izzyfit@me.com