Vitamin D deficiency is a widespread problem that has been investigated world-wide (1, 2, 3, 4) and is largely attributed to inadequate exposure to sunlight (5).  Although the recommended amounts vary, the optimum level is argued to be around 30ng/ml although this figure will vary for unhealthy individuals, pregnant women and older people (see table 1 for further details). Long-term vitamin D deficiency has been linked to various health risks including bowel cancer, colonic cancer, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease (6).


Table 1 – Guidelines for Vitamin D Consumption (source: ref 14).

Amount (nanograms) Outcome
>100 Excess
30-100 Sufficiency
20 to <30 Insufficiency
10 to <20 Deficiency
<10 Severe Deficiency


In the sporting world there has been an increased interest in the influence of vitamin D on athletic performance. Research suggests that a deficiency can result in negative effects on musculoskeletal health, with increased risk of injuries such as stress fractures (7). A UK study found a positive correlation between vitamin D levels and the height, velocity and power of jumps performed by adolescent girls (8). More specifically, a vitamin D receptor cell has been identified within muscle cells, meaning that vitamin D has a direct impact on muscle tissue (9), but it has also been recognised as playing an indirect role via other structures such as IGF-1 by partially regulating it (10).

The benefits of vitamin D on muscle tissue have been recorded, although findings have been inconsistent. For example, El-Hajj et al (11) conducted a one year, controlled trial of 179 women in two groups; low and high dose vitamin D. The individuals with high vitamin D supplementation had increased lean mass and bone mass but the findings were not repeated in a similar study of male participants.

Further evidence comes from research on older people. A recent experiment suggested Vitamin D may have a role in moderating the age related decline in muscle function (12) but a review of controlled trials exploring vitamin D and calcium supplementation, concluded there was no evidence that vitamin D alone improved the strength or physical function of elderly people (13).


Our Comments

The evidence regarding vitamin D and its positive effect on athletic performance is increasing; it clearly has strong potential for improving muscle mass and preventing injury.  In winter, it is thus essential to consume sources that are rich in vitamin D (salmon, sardines, milk, eggs,  fortified dairy products) but for those of us who are either time poor or money poor (or simply too lazy), then a high quality vitamin D supplement will also do the job. Unlike some other vitamins, vitamin D is fat soluble therefore the body can store it for a long period of time, storing it in the liver when it is has not been utilised meaning you won’t become deficient quickly if you have a healthy store already.

As with most vitamins and nutrients, there is no consensus amongst organisations regarding the required dosage of vitamin D. According to scientific research (14) however,  the performance enhancing benefits of vitamin D can be achieved by consuming doses of 5000-10000IU’s daily for the first couple of weeks for people that are deficient and between 1000-2000IU’s (25ng/0.025mg – 50ng/0.05mg) daily thereafter.

At worst, if vitamin D doesn’t impart performance benefits for everyone, one can feel at ease knowing that they will still have a whole host of other benefits, including increased calcium absorption, reduced risks of cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, better foetal health during pregnancy, as well as improved mood and memory (14, 15).


For other reading which may be of interest, see links below:

HMB helps prevent muscle loss

Fish oil for muscle gain?

Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba Complex shows promise for mental tasks

Fructose in visceral fat link


1.    Ford, L., Graham, V., Wall, A. and Berg, J. (2006). Vitamin D concentrations in an UK inner-city multicultural outpatient population.  Annals of Clinical Biochemistry, 43, 468-473.

2.    Gordon, C., DePeter, K., Feldman, H., Grace, E. and Emans, S. (2004). Prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency among healthy adolescents.  Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 158(6), 531-537.

3.    Fonseca, V., Tongia, R., El-Hazmi, M. and Abu-Aisha, H. (1984). Exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D deficiency in Saudi Arabian women. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 60, 589–591.

4.    Lovell, G. (2008). Vitamin D status of females in an elite gymnastics program. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 18, 159–161.

5.    Andersen, R., Molgaard, C., Skovgaard, L., et al. (2005). Teenage girls and elderly women living in northern Europe have low winter vitamin D status. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 59, 533–541.

6.    Hamilton, B. (2011). Vitamin D and Athletic Performance: The Potential Role of Muscle. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 2(4), 211–219.

7.    Lappe, J., Cullen, D., Haynatzki, G., et al. (2008). Calcium and vitamin D supplementation decreases incidence of stress fractures in female navy recruits. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 23, 741-749.

8.    Ward, K., Das, G., Berry, J., et al. (2009). Vitamin D status and muscle function in post-menarchal adolescent girls. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 94, 559-563.

9.    Simpson, R., Thomas, G. and Arnold, A. (1985). Identification of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 receptors and activities in muscle. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 260, 8882–8891.

10.    Peng, L., Malloy, P. and Feldman, D. (2004). Identification of a functional vitamin D response element in the human insulin-like growth factor binding protein-3 promoter. Molecular Endocrinology, 18, 1109–1119.

11.    El-Hajj, G., Nabulsi, M., Tamim, H., et al. (2006). Effect of vitamin D replacement on musculoskeletal parameters in school children: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 91, 405–412.

12.    Gerdhem, P., Ringsberg, K., Obrant K. and Akesson, K. (2005). Association between 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels, physical activity, muscle strength and fractures in the prospective population-based OPRA study of elderly women. Osteoporosis International, 16, 1425–1431.

13.    Latham, N., Anderseon. C., Reid, I. (2003). Effects of vitamin D supplementation on strength, physical performance, and falls in older persons: a systematic review. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 51, 1219–1226.

14.    Grant, W. and Holick, M. (2005). Benefits and requirements of vitamin D for optimal health: A review. Alternative Medical Review, 10(2), 94-111.

15.    Jones, D. (2010). Vitamin D influences genes and improves mood and memory. [online], October 7th.

© 2012, Reggie Johal. All rights reserved.