Improving Athletic Performance
Part 1 & 2
Dr. Philip Maffetone
Vitamin D is associated with many health condition, and has a powerful influence on fitness too, more than most realize. But inadequate levels of this most important nutrient can impair body and brain. Studies continue to show more of this pro-hormone is needed than once thought, and that there is a real epidemic of deficiency, even in some who spend a significant amount of time training outdoors.
Can spending more time in the sun improve athletic performance? The ancient Greeks believed athletes should be well bathed by the sun, and their elite athletes trained at the beach, and in the nude. The latter might be difficult in today’s society, but if your vitamin D levels are too low, the sun can definitely improve your training and racing performance. Research indicates that serum vitamin D levels of about 50 ng/ml are associated with peak athletic performance. However, a surprisingly high number of athletes have levels of vitamin D far below that mark. Many of these athletes inadvertently prevent normal vitamin D status by using sunscreen, avoiding midday sun exposure, and overdressing. It’s important to balance overexposure of the sun (avoiding sun burn) with adequate sun exposure that provides sufficient vitamin D production. Normalizing vitamin D levels can improve muscle function, prevent bone problems and other mechanical injuries, help recovery from training and competition, reduce unexplained muscle pains, and otherwise prevent many health problems including many forms of cancer. Normal vitamin D levels may also prevent getting sunburned during long training and racing.
While vitamin D is called a “vitamin,” it’s really a unique steroid hormone, which performs a number of different tasks in the athletic body and brain. These include helping muscles function better, controlling inflammation and immunity, improving brain and hormone function, regulating calcium absorption and utilization, and promoting the work of a couple thousand genes.
Despite spending significant time outdoors for training and competition, endurance athletes are not immune to the worldwide epidemic of low vitamin D levels. For decades, I’ve been finding low vitamin D levels in athletes and recommending more time in the sun. While this has resulted in my receiving some nasty letters from dermatologists and others, the research today is demonstrating that the problem is real. For example, Maimoun and colleagues recently published a study in the International Journal of Sports showing that a group of French cyclists, each training 16 hours a week outdoors, had below normal levels of vitamin D. Two other current studies measuring large numbers of people in southern Florida and southern Arizona show significantly high numbers of people were also far below normal levels of vitamin D, despite living in very sunny environments.
While it’s often not difficult to obtain sufficient amounts of vitamin D from the sun, there are a variety of reasons why endurance athletes, who spend most of their training times outside, may be unable to accomplish this:
- The use of sunscreen blocks the vitamin D-producing ultraviolet B (UVB) waves of the sun.
- Wearing of protective clothing, especially materials that block UVB waves.
- Training early and later in the day, when vitamin D-producing sun exposure is significantly reduced.
- Darker skin – in addition to those with naturally dark skin, most light-skinned athletes have accumulated enough sun to darken their skin, reduce their ability to obtain vitamin D from sun exposure; they need to be in the sun longer.
- Proper fat metabolism is necessary for vitamin D production, and those with too high and too low body fat may be unable to release stored vitamin D, which is especially important in winter and early spring when sun exposure produces much less vitamin D.
- Athletes living at more extreme latitudes, such as northern Europe and Canada, and southern Australia and South America, have significantly less sun exposure throughout the year.
Low levels of vitamin D may adversely affect athletic performance, and the addition of vitamin D – both from additional sun exposure and supplementation – can increase performance. John Cannell, MD, executive director of the Vitamin D Council (www.vitaminDcouncil.org), has extensively researched the question of vitamin D and athletic performance: “If you are vitamin D deficient, the medical literature indicates that the right amount of vitamin D will make you faster, stronger, improve your balance and timing, etc. How much it will improve your athletic ability depends on how deficient you are to begin with. However, peak athletic performance also depends upon the neuromuscular cells in your body and brain having unfettered access to the steroid hormone, activated vitamin D.”
As the lead author of a study entitled “Athletic Performance and Vitamin D” (Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2009), Cannel reviewed reports on the use of sunlamps during the early and mid 1900s in Russia and East Germany to increase vitamin D levels in athletes. They showed this form of artificial ultraviolet irradiation, which increases vitamin D levels, improved athletic function. And, these actions caused some to argue that this little known routine provided an unfair advantage during competition. In my earliest days of training and competition in high school and college, there were often news reports about the well-kept secrets that helped former Soviet Union and East German athletes perform better; some claim this was one of their secrets.
My Perspective by John Cannel, M.D.
"No way doc." I had just finished telling my patient about the benefits of vitamin D, telling him he should take 4,000 IU per day, using all the techniques I had learned in 30 years of medical practice to convince someone proper treatment is important. But, he knew the U.S. government said he only needed 200 IU per day, not 4,000. He also knew the official Upper Limit was 2,000 IU a day. "What are you trying to do doc, kill me?" I told him his 25(OH)-vitamin D blood test was low, only 13 ng/ml. He had read about that too, in a medical textbook, where it said normal levels are between 10 and 40 ng/ml. "I'm fine doc;" adding "Are you in the vitamin business?" I explained I was not; that the government used outdated values; that recent studies indicate ideal 25(OH)D levels are about 50 ng/ml; and that they indicated that he needed about 4,000 IU per day to get his level up to 50. "No thanks doc, I'm fine."
So I tried a different tact. I brought him copies of recent press articles. "Look," I said, "look at these." Science News called vitamin D the Antibiotic Vitamin. The Independent in England says vitamin D explains why people die from influenza in the winter, and not the summer. U.S. News and World Report says almost everyone needs more. Newsweek says it prevents cancer and helps fight infection. In four different recent reports, United Press International says that: it reduces falls in the elderly, many pregnant women are deficient, it reduces stress fractures, and that it helps heals wounds.
He glanced at the articles, showing a little interest in stress fractures. Then he told me what he was really thinking. "Look doc, all this stuff may be important to old guys like you. I'm 22. All I care about are girls and sports. When I get older, maybe I'll think about it. I'm too young to worry about it. I'm in great condition." I couldn't argue. He was in good health and a very good basketball player, playing several hours every day, always on indoor courts.
What could I do to open his eyes? As an African American, his risk of early death was very high, although the risk for blacks doesn't start to dramatically increase until their 40's and 50's. Like all young people, he saw himself as forever young. The U.S. government was no help, relying on a ten-year-old report from the Institute of Medicine that is full of misinformation.
I tired to tell him that the 200 IU per day the U.S. government recommends for 20-year-olds is to prevent bone disease, not to treat low vitamin D levels like his. I pointed out the U.S. government's official current Upper Limit of 2,000 IU/day is the same for a 300 pound adult as it is for a 25 pound toddler. That is, the government says it's safe for a one-year-old, 25-pound, child to take 2,000 IU per day but it's not safe for a 30-year old, 300-pound, adult to take 2,000 and one IU a day. I mean, whoever thought up these Upper Limits must have left their thinking caps at home. Nevertheless, nothing worked. My vitamin D deficient patient was not interested in taking any vitamin D.
What are young men interested in? I remembered that he had told me: "Sex and sports." Two years ago I had researched the medical literature looking for any evidence vitamin D enhanced sexual performance. Absolutely nothing. That would have been nice. Can you imagine the interest?
Then I remembered that several readers had written to ask me if vitamin D could possibly improve their athletic performance? They told me that after taking 2,000 to 5,000 IU per day for several months, they seemed just a little faster, a little stronger, maybe had a little better balance and timing. A pianist had written to tell me she even played a better piano, her fingers moved over the keys more effortlessly! Was vitamin D responsible for these subtle changes or was it a placebo effect? That is, did readers just think their athletic performance improved because they knew vitamin D was a steroid hormone precursor (hormone, from the Greek, meaning "to set in motion")?
The active form of vitamin D is a steroid (actually a seco-steroid) in the same way that testosterone is a steroid and vitamin D is a hormone in the same way that growth hormone is a hormone. Steroid hormones are substances made from cholesterol, which circulate in the body, and work at distant sites by "setting in motion" genetic protein transcription. That is, both vitamin D and testosterone regulate your genome, the stuff of life. While testosterone is a sex steroid hormone, vitamin D is a pleomorphic (multiple function) steroid hormone.
All of a sudden, it didn't seem so silly. Certainly steroids can improve athletic performance although they can be quite dangerous. In addition, few people are deficient in growth hormone or testosterone, so when athletes take sex steroids or growth hormone they are cheating, or doping. The case with vitamin D is quite different because natural vitamin D levels are about 50 ng/ml and, since almost no one has such levels, extra vitamin D is not doping, it's just good treatment. I decided to exhaustively research the medical literature on vitamin D and athletic performance. It took me over a year.
To my surprise, I discovered that there are five totally independent bodies of research that all converge on an inescapable conclusion: vitamin D will improve athletic performance in vitamin D deficient people (and that includes most people). Even more interesting is who published this literature, and when. Are you old enough to remember when the Germans and Russians won every Olympics in the 60's and 70's? Well, it turns out that the most convincing evidence that vitamin D improves athletic performance was published in old German and Russian medical literature.
With the help of my wife and mother-in-law, both of whom are Russian, and with the help of Marc Sorenson, whose book Solar Power is a must read, I finally was able to look at translations of much of the old Russian and German literature. When one combines that old literature with the modern English language literature on neuromuscular performance, the conclusion is inescapable. The readers who wrote me are right.
If you are vitamin D deficient, the medical literature indicates that the right amount of vitamin D will make you faster, stronger, improve your balance and timing, etc. How much it will improve your athletic ability depends on how deficient you are to begin with. How good an athlete you will be depends on your innate ability, training, and dedication. However, peak athletic performance also depends upon the neuromuscular cells in your body and brain having unfettered access to the steroid hormone, activated vitamin D. In addition, how much activated vitamin D is available to your brain, muscle, and nerves depends on having ideal levels of vitamin D in your blood - about 50 ng/ml, to be precise.
Why would I write about such a frivolous topic like peak athletic performance when cancer patients all across this land are dying vitamin D deficient? Like many vitamin D advocates, I have been disappointed that the medical profession and the public don't seem to care about vitamin D. Maybe people, like my young basketball player, will care if it makes better athletes.
The medical literature indicates vitamin D levels of about 50 ng/ml are associated with peak athletic performance. Of course, recent studies show such levels are ideal for preventing cancer, diabetes, hypertension, influenza, multiple sclerosis, major depression, cognitive impairments, etc. But who cares about all that disease stuff old people get, we're talking about something really important: speed, balance, reaction time, muscle mass, muscle strength, squats, reps, etc. And guess who's now taking 4,000 IU/day? Yes he is, and he tells me his timing is better, he can jump a little higher, run a little faster, and the ball feels "sweeter," whatever that means. (Thanks to Dr. John Cannell and the Vitamin D Council.)
The sun provides us with our primary source of vitamin D, in a dose that’s safe and is free. In addition to improving muscle function, vitamin D also helps us avoid bone-and muscle-related injuries, and those associated with inflammation. Vitamin D can also help improve our immune system to prevent infections and recover better. In addition, vitamin D helps prevent cardiovascular disease and many forms of cancer – including skin cancer.
The old notion that we only need 200-400 IUs of vitamin D a day has long been replaced by scientific studies that show we may need much more than that amount – possibly ten times that dosage! The official recommendations are not yet changed, but this should happen relatively soon as the long-standing epidemic of vitamin D has caused many problems, including the return of rickets – the childhood bone disease caused by vitamin D deficiency.
Testing your D
A simple blood test should be performed as necessary to monitor your vitamin D levels. If you’ve not checked your vitamin D levels, an immediate test might serve as a baseline evaluation with a follow up test in four to six months. The lowest levels of vitamin D are in early spring, a good time to test yourself. While different labs can vary in their “normal” ranges, blood levels should be between 50–80 ng/mL (or 125–200 nM/L) year-round, with lower levels in this normal range following winter and higher levels within this range in late summer. How much vitamin D you need from all sources to maintain normal levels is very individual. This is best monitored through blood tests, adjusting your sun exposure and dietary supplements as needed. Tell your health care professional to include vitamin D in your next blood test, or get an in-home test kit, which is a very accurate, easy and relatively inexpensive way to test your vitamin D level. These are available through the Vitamin D Council’s website (www.vitaminDcouncil.org).
Based on recent scientific studies, the currently recommended vitamin D levels of 200-400 IUs (international units) are grossly inadequate. The average daily need for vitamin D may be as high as 4,000 IUs a day in some people.
In addition to calcium regulation and prevention of cancer, vitamin D specifically helps reduce pain caused by various types of muscle and bone problems. The sun also plays an important role in immunity, especially in children. And, the sun is good for our brain – getting natural sunlight helps the brain work better. No, not staring into the sun, but allowing our eyes to be exposed to natural outdoor light (contact lenses, eyeglasses, sunglasses and windows block the helpful sunrays).
As a steroid hormone, vitamin D has many other healthy effects in the body, including stimulating thousands of genes for optimal fitness and health. When vitamin D levels are reduced, as often happens in many athletes, especially during colder months with lowest levels in the spring when racing begins for many, performance can also diminish. Athletic performance quality is often seasonal. In North America’s winter period, for example, when the sun is lower and vitamin D production in athletes is much lower, reductions in performance can follow. (The flu is also a seasonal phenomenon, and many researchers say its appearance in winter is associated with low vitamin D levels as this sunshine vitamin helps the immune system.)
Sources of Vitamin D
There are five sources of vitamin D available for athletes. Our primary source is from the sun, with foods providing small amounts. Fortified foods such as milk and many processed foods, are not a good source. Dietary supplements are the most viable option for those requiring more, and artificial light can also be a source of vitamin D for those in colder climates where optimal sun exposure is limited.
It’s especially important to obtain adequate vitamin D from sun exposure throughout the warmer summer months to build stores of vitamin D for the winter. But without sufficient exposure beginning early in the season that brings vitamin D levels in the body to moderate or high levels, the amount of vitamin D stored for winter may be inadequate and additional sources necessary.
How much sun and for how long depends on each athlete’s individual needs. For many fair-skinned athletes, exposing arms and legs to sunlight for 20–30 minutes – more in northern climates and less as you get closer to the equator during high sun (between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm) throughout the week without sunscreen should be adequate to start the process of building adequate vitamin D levels. In a healthy athlete, this amount of sun can produce 5,000 to 10,000 units of vitamin D – and this amount is healthy, not excessive. Interestingly, we can’t overdose on vitamin D from the sun like we can with all other sources.
As skin tans, longer periods of sun exposure will be needed to build vitamin D stores for the winter months. Those in more northern (and extreme southern) climates may need much more. And, those with darker skin will require even more sun exposure throughout the year. In general, more exposure may be better as long as you avoid the most important sun stress, sunburn. And, as your levels of vitamin D rise and normalize, the risk of sunburn diminishes.
Foods containing vitamin D are secondary sources that only help contribute to normal vitamin D levels. While food won’t get your levels to normal if you’re deficient, they can help maintain them. The best vitamin D-containing foods are from animal sources. These include wild salmon, sardines and tuna which provide modest amounts, and egg yolks. Vegetable sources of vitamin D are less adequately utilized by the body, with shiitake mushroom being a modest source.
Foods fortified with vitamin D are not a good source for several reasons. First, the levels are very low and quite insignificant when compared to what we get from the sun. Relying on the consumption of vitamin D fortified foods has clearly failed to prevent abnormal low levels and associated disease and other problems in the population. The synthetic fortification of milk is a common example. Most people would need 10 or 12 glasses a day – or more – to consume adequate amounts of vitamin D; something most would, and should, not consume. And, this form is vitamin D2.
This vitamin D2 is ergocalciferol, a synthetic form and the type found in plants. In humans, it’s not utilized as well as natural forms, such as from fish, and not as well absorbed. And, the foods that are fortified are usually unhealthy processed products, such as cereal, margarine and processed cheese, and other items that are generally best avoided.
For most athletes, relying on food to obtain sufficient vitamin D is difficult without adequate sun exposure. If your blood levels of vitamin D are low, and you’re spending time in the sun, addition supplementation from cod liver oil may be necessary.
The best dietary supplement is cod liver oil, which provides a concentrated form of natural vitamin D. Cod liver oil is the best type of vitamin D because it contains the vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) form, which is better utilized by the body than the vitamin D2 form obtained from plants, which is a common source in other dietary supplements. Vegetarians who won’t take animal sources of vitamin D must rely more on the sun.
Vitamin D dosing should be based on current levels of vitamin D from a blood test:
Less than 30 ng/ml (deficiency): 5-10,000 IUs/day.
30-50: 5,000 IUs/day.
50-75: 800-1,000 IUs/day.
The above chart does not consider spending time in the sun, which is your best source.
(Many supplements of cod liver oil also contain vitamin A, an important nutrient for athletes. However, avoid those containing vitamin A that provide you with more than about 5,000 IUs a day. High levels of vitamin A can also be toxic, and it can interfere with vitamin D metabolism.)
In some individuals who have very low blood levels of vitamin D, even modest amounts of vitamin D supplementation may not normalize blood levels, and much higher doses may be necessary to correct this serious deficiency. Here is a general guideline:
In some cases, 50,000 IU’s a day or more for the first week may be the start of optimal therapy, but this should be done with the help of a health care professional. These doses must be carefully monitored with blood levels to avoid toxicity while assuring levels are returning to normal. These very high doses of vitamin D, both in oral and injectable forms, in doses of 25,000 to 100,000 units, come with a risk of overdose. Vitamin D toxicity can cause significant mineral imbalance, especially of calcium and phosphorus, and fatigue, constipation, forgetfulness, nausea, and vomiting.
Tanning or sun beds, happy lights and other sources of UVB rays, can increase vitamin D levels. These are readily available for home use and in tanning salons. I don’t recommend them as a replacement for sun exposure, but for those who may be unable to spend adequate time in the sun. This is especially true in winter months in cold climates, and those who work indoors all day. With adequate sun exposure in warm weather, cod liver oil supplements and a tanning bed once a week, even athletes in Canada, northern Europe and other sun deficient areas, for example, can help maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.
Other Nutrients Associated with the Sun and Vitamin D
The body requires a variety of other nutrients to help regulate vitamin D. Those consuming a healthy diet can usually obtain most of these nutrients. However, as discussed in Section II, many athletes don’t even obtain minimum levels, such as RDA levels, of some nutrients – even when they include supplements! Magnesium is a common example, and a very important nutrient to help the body regulate vitamin D. This mineral is often low in athletes. In fact, having done a dietary analysis on almost all athletes I’ve seen over decades of work, magnesium is one of the more common deficiencies. The best food sources are organically grown vegetables, and raw nuts and seeds.
These foods will also help you obtain other nutrients needed for better utilization of vitamin D; they include zinc, and the vitamins A and K. In the case of vitamin A, however, you’ll need egg yolks and other animal foods such as fish since plant foods don’t contain vitamin A (they contain large amounts of beta carotene which the human body can convert to vitamin A but not very efficiently as other animals). Most cod liver oil supplements also contain vitamin A.
As research continues we’ll find out more regarding the nutrients that we need to protect us when spending time in the sun. Various naturally occurring antioxidants from foods, and omega-3 fats, for example, are used by the body in helping to protect us from possible harm of overexposure, so these nutrients will be needed in adequate amounts especially in sunny seasons. For a long time it’s been known that sun exposure reduces the body’s folic acid, another reason to consume 10 servings of vegetables and fruits each day, which should provide sufficient folic acid.
Training & Racing in the Sun
Of course, endurance athletes are exposed to significant periods of sun during long training and racing. A common question is how can you protect yourself from the hot Kona sun, or even during your long Sunday run. One observation I made many years ago is that healthy athletes don’t burn nearly as much or as fast as those who are not as healthy. This may be due to a variety of reasons, as a healthy diet can protect your skin from overexposure to the sun:
- Getting “burned” by the sun is associated with an inflammatory reaction – the more inflammation the more burn. Maintaining a good balance of fats, especially the inclusion of fish oil, protects against these inflammatory reactions.
- A full spectrum of antioxidants – from beta carotene and lycopene to the vitamin E complex (all eight components) and natural vitamin C – found in the diet can also help protect the skin during sun exposure; in particular, these help control the free radical reactions in the skin.
- Because a long day in the sun can significantly reduce the body’s folic acid levels, consuming sufficient vegetables and fruits will help offset this, potentially restoring healthy skin.
- Those with normal levels of vitamin D may not burn as fast and as bad as those with low levels.
Dr. John Cannell has made a very similar observation that those with adequate vitamin D levels don’t burn as much. While these individuals with proper vitamin D status may also tan better, the darker skin is probably not the reason they burn less; the mechanism is unknown.
The body has natural protection for overexposure to the sun. The skin’s production of melanin is responsible for this tanning process providing protection against excess ultraviolet light. It’s normal for the skin to redden during very long training or racing – but by day’s end, or the next morning, the skin should be back to normal. This does not constitute a sunburn, just a sign of high exposure which should be tolerated by a healthy body. If in doubt about how much burn you have, cool it – the use of cold water immediately after a long period in the sun can dramatically speed the healing of the skin. While a cool shower is helpful, getting into cool water, covering all areas of burn if possible, is ideal.
Even when you’re healthy, in long training and racing certain skin areas will be more vulnerable. The ears, nose, lips and head are easily burned after training or racing all day in many geographical areas. Proper clothing, including a hat that shades these areas is very important. Even the right length hair can help, especially for the ears and neck. Products such as zinc oxide can also help if necessary. Clothing can also help shade other areas such as shoulders and arms.
Of course, building a great tan is still a very important way to protect the skin. But if you’re racing an ultramarathon in a very sunny location, for example, and know you will burn, using products that rely on zinc oxide may be effective. There are even certified organic versions available.
It should be noted that the SPF – Sun Protection Factor – listed on sunscreen products indicates how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning compared to not having sunscreen. If your skin is unprotected, and burns, hypothetically, after 30 minutes, a product with a SPF of 10 would mean you could stay in the sun ten times as long, or 5 hours. Using that same product a few times during your stay in the sun will not prolong the protection – you would actually need to use a sunscreen with a higher SPF to accomplish this. Sunscreens with SPF of more than 30 may not offer any additional protection, despite the marketing hype.
Humans have been in sunny environments since the beginning. Of course, most athletes spend a considerable time outdoors, although too many still don’t have normal vitamin D levels. While it’s important to get adequate sun regularly, it’s also important to not abuse your skin. The concern, however, is that increased sun exposure can cause dry skin, wrinkles and, the big concern, skin cancer. Certainly skin damage and the risk of cancer is possible when the sun is abused, especially at an early age and when we’re not healthy.
Generally, a healthy body will respond to the sun in a healthy way. However, abuse the sun and your skin will suffer. Not until the past few decades has the incidence of skin cancer become such a problem. This period corresponds with the development of sunscreen and other products that attempt to block the sun’s rays. Vitamin D is known to prevent many cancers, including skin cancer. William Grant, PhD, who has published many papers on this issue, says that sunscreen is overrated and gives a false sense of security. Other research shows the use of sunscreen can actually increase the risk of malignant melanoma (the most common and deadly form) and other skin cancers. Grant and other researchers describe the problem this way: Most sunscreens blocks UVB (ultraviolet B waves) very effectively, which is how we make vitamin D, but sunscreen does not block longer-wave more dangerous UVA well. We obtain vitamin D through UVB, and if we block that wave our sun-stimulated vitamin D production is reduced. And, users of sunscreen often remain in the sun longer.
The false sense of security that sunscreen gives many people is that they could stay in the sun longer, exposing the skin to more dangerous UVA, and increasing their risk of skin cancer. For this and other reasons, the growing list of research supports the notion that we can prevent a significant number of many types of cancers by spending some time in the sun, without sunscreen – just don’t burn. This includes the prevention of skin cancer.
Some studies show a relationship between sunscreen use and cancer prevention while others have not. Still other studies show sunscreen use can actually increase the risk of malignant melanoma. Unfortunately, sunscreen manufacturers and cosmetic companies spend millions on marketing, using popular scare tactics to convince people to use their products.
For most of my career I have recommended getting a good tan to protect the skin against excessive sun damage. In fact, tanning provides protection similar to sunscreen, and with protection specifically against the potentially dangerous UVA. A recent issue of Science (March 2, 2007) says the same: “A dark natural tan offers unparalleled protection against skin cancer.” Not everyone can tan. Very fair-skinned people, those with red hair and those with freckles, can burn quite easily, and these individuals must be very cautious when in the sun.
Below are four important factors to consider when it comes to the sun’s effect on our skin:
1. Use the Sun Wisely
Everyone knows that spending the afternoon lying on the beach in the strong summer sun is not healthy because you tend to burn the skin (although people continue doing it). But we all need sun exposure – adults of all ages and children from an early age.
If you work in the midday summer sun and need more protection, you should cover yourself – a hat and light, long sleeves are usually sufficient. Those who are sun-sensitive should avoid midday sun, and sometimes even late morning and mid-afternoon summer sun. Most people who are sun-sensitive already know it. In this case it’s important to take a natural vitamin D supplement, such as from cod liver oil, as other food sources of this nutrient are inadequate.
2. Naturally Protect Your Skin
There are a variety of natural ways the body protects itself from the sun. These include being tan, having optimal levels of vitamin D, consuming foods with adequate levels of various nutrients, including antioxidants and omega-3 fats. In addition, even healthy sun exposure produces a mild (acute) inflammatory reaction on the skin. This normal response should quickly disappear if fats are balanced enabling the body to recovery from a long training or racing event in the sun, for example.
3. Eat Right
The very best skin care products are nutrients found in the healthy foods we eat. Essential fats, antioxidants, vitamin A and other nutrients from our diet offers the greatest skin care and the best natural protection from the sun. Vegetables and fruits provide most of these nutrients, with fish oil, egg yolks and whey products offering other valuable factors.
4. Don’t Eat Sunscreen!
My recommendation has always been: don’t put anything on your skin you’re not willing to eat! That’s because sunscreen, along with so many things people put on their skin, gets absorbed into the body.
The sun is our primary source of vitamin D, and the best way to get it is by spending some quality time getting sun exposure. Scheduling training sessions at certain times of the day throughout the year to take advantage of the sun is very important to help obtain this hidden benefit for improved athletic performance.
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