On April 30, 2015, Dr Joseph Maroon, and his team of researchers from UPMC, published their results of a study on vitamin D levels in professional athletes. The study investigated vitamin D levels in 80 professional football players and found only 25 (31%) had adequate vitamin D levels. In addition, they reported that of the African America players only 22% had adequate levels. They also discovered a relationship between bone fractures and vitamin D levels and found when correcting for number of seasons played, vitamin D levels were significantly lower in those athletes who experienced one or more bone fractures during their athletic careers.
“We were not surprised with the results that showed African American players had lower vitamin D levels,” states Dr. Maroon, “skin with a greater melanin level hinders vitamin D production when exposed to sunlight.” “What was interesting was the greater occurrence of fracture in the players with low vitamin D who are all young and very fit athletes.”
Maroon et al. references a similar unpublished research study done in another group of professional football players, which showed that low vitamin D levels were associated with a greater incidence of muscle injury. “These finding suggest that adequate vitamin D levels are critical for both muscle and bone health in athletes who push their bodies to the limit,” comments Dr. Maroon. “Vitamin D levels are easily tested and diet changes or vitamin D supplements should be considered if levels are low.”
Interestingly, Maroon et al. also found that those athletes with low vitamin D levels were the most likely to be cut from the team after training camp. While this finding cannot be causally attributed or directly linked to low vitamin D levels, it does suggest an association between vitamin D levels and suboptimal performance. The authors cite previous studies that have investigated vitamin D levels in relation to performance in athletes of other sports. “We found several studies that reported a positive relationship between vitamin D levels and muscle power and force,” states Dr. Maroon. “Clearly more research is still needed in professional football to determine if any advantage can be obtained by ensuring adequate vitamin D levels. We hope to look at a larger group of players in the near future.”
Maroon, JC, Mathyssek, CM., Bost, JW., Amos A, Winkelman R, Yates AP., Duca, MA. and Norwig, JA., Vitamin D Profile in National Football League Players, Am J Sports Med 2015 43: 1241 Abstract
Shindle MK, Voos JE, Gulotta L, et al. Vitamin D status in a professional American football team. Presented at: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, 2011.