Home Science Health & Fitness Vitamin D: The Ultimate “Fight-amin”

Vitamin D: The Ultimate “Fight-amin”


Fighters are constantly looking for ways to up their game with supplements, most of which are engineered by mixing compounds to produce desired synergistic effects. The combinations are endless, but there may be a much simpler, safer and less expensive way to increase athletic performance.

Dr. Myles Suehiro M.D. at the Hawaii Institute for Health and Healing is a Certified Ring-side physician and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt. He strongly encourages all of his teammates and athletic patients to increase their level of Vitamin D intake.

“Vitamin is such an important micronutrient because it used by every cell in the body,” said Dr. Suehiro. “Every cell in your body has a receptor for Vitamin D indicating that it plays some function. There has been a lot of research indicating that vitamin D deficiency is related to a lot of different diseases. It is related to 17 varieties of cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune disease, autism, diabetes, depression, osteoarthritis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease and more.

Vitamin D in Combat Sports and Olympics

“For the combative sports where a lot of it is close face-to-face physical contact, you re susceptible to respiratory infections,” said Dr. Suehiro. “This is where titrating vitamin D to try to stay healthy and to try and maintain control over inflammation. Most people don’t know, but vitamin D deficiency is related to asthma and this is through the mechanism of inflammation.”

Combat sports require a lot of face-to-face contact which can promote the spread of illnesses like the flu.

“When it comes to grappling and wrestling, lets take scholastic wrestling. It is a winter sport. This is where you have high incidents of flus, so I have noticed a lot high school and college wrestlers get sick. I believe it is related to the exhaustive training. So they are more susceptible to flus. Flus are more common in the wintertime. Some people think is has to do with the weather and some think it has to do with the host. In the winter-time we have less sun exposer and it may be a combination of both.”

A 2009 article published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine titled “Athletic Performance and Vitamin D,” concluded that vitamin D could help give Americans Olympians the same edge that Russian and German athletes claimed to have received in the 1950s and 1980s, when they used sunlamps to stimulate vitamin D production in order to increase performance and reduce injuries.

The article also mentioned that a number of athletes during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City trained in Mexico to acclimate to the high altitude and weather. Many world records were set that year and Americans won more medals, especially in outdoor sports, which may be associated with the increase in Vitamin D from sunlight.

Obtaining Vitamin D

“This is so important and yet very few can get adequate levels of Vitamin D,” said Dr. Suehiro. “Now why is that? Most people work, go to school and don’t have the time to spend out doors when the sun is directly overhead. The sun has to be directly over-head, otherwise you don’t get good exposure. That means that in order to get a good amount of vitamin D one would have to go out in the sun from 30 to 60 minutes in a bathing suit. Most people don’t have time to do that.”

Where Dr. Suehiro lives on the island of Oahu, the sun is shining more often than not, with the exception of the raining season. Even then it is tough to find the time to get daily over-head exposure. This could prove significantly more difficult in regions that aren’t so weather-friendly.

“There are Vitamin D supplements that you find in foods, but the amount is very small,” said Dr. Suehiro. “I believe there are only about 400 units in a glass of milk. In order to get enough Vitamin D you would have you would not be able to drink enough milk without it being too much.”

Vitamin D3 is the human form and can be found in capsule form.

The most efficient way to ensure proper levels of Vitamin D is to supplement with capsules, which can be purchased at most drug or grocery stores.

“There are more than one type of Vitamin D,” said Dr. Suehiro. “Vitamin D2 is plant vitamin D. The human form of vitamin D is vitamin D3. They are all a form of vitamin D, but have slightly different molecular structure.”

Finding Your Optimum Level

“Vitamin D deficiency is a problem and it is related to all different functions of the body,” said Dr. Suehiro. “So the first step is to try and create in any athlete, or any efficiently functioning person really, an establishment of some level of good balance. One of the biggest problems with finding this balance is lack of micronutrients, Vitamin D being a big one. After one gets his balance, how does one maintain. This is where I feel measurement of the vitamin D is important.

If you have medical conditions that may require more and this is where it is especially important to measure levels. There are different ways to measure Vitamin D and this is where familiarizing yourself with testing procedures to measure vitamin D and test appropriately can be a factor.”

There are a number of blood tests that can be run by a physician to determine a person’s Vitamin D level. It is recommended to test before supplementation and after to ensure proper levels are reached for your specific body. Given that not all insurance companies will cover elective tests, Dr. Sueshiro recommends 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily.

Maximizing Performance

“I’m talking in generalities, but for every individual that would like to be healthy and a achieve balance you need to get your vitamin D,” said Dr. Suehiro. “Now there are some discrepancies. There are some schools of medicines that say you may not need to take vitamin D. I believe that these contradictions are based on who’s looking at what studies and what studies are selected to be reviewed. If you don’t monitor blood levels, it is hard to come up with some blanket statement as to how much people should be taking. The professor that I reference is Robert Heaney of Creighton University.

Vitamin D deficiency may not allow one to maximize strength training. Research in the sports medicine literature has indicated even in healthy people optimizing vitamin D will actually increase their strength.  It is not so much the strength per say, but it is the ability to optimize the physiology of muscle and exercise. As you exercise you may break down some muscle tissue and you may have some inflammation but you recover fast enough that you can continue exercising.”

Another article from the American Journal of Sports Medicine published in 2013 titled “The Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency in Athletes,” stated that Vitamin D acts to maintain calcium and phosphate homeostasis within the body and it is now estimated that 1 billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient. The article also asserts that the problem is particularly important to all ages of athletes because vitamin D plays a significant role in bone health, immune function, and physical performance. Athlete may be at an increased risk for potential problems such as stress fractures, respiratory infections, and muscle injuries.

“For these reasons I feel like vitamin D is an essential part of any athletic training,” said Dr. Suehiro. “On top of being an essential micronutrient for anyone who would like to be healthy.”