Richard Mullins looks at a potential but unusual cause for your winter training struggles. Maybe all we need is a bit more sunshine…

Fact: it is freezing out there, windy and raining. I, like most of you, will run in any weather, but sometimes I am forced onto the treadmill (dreadmill).  Even worse I’ll sometimes skip a training session using the weather as an excuse. That is perfectly normal for us all on occasion, but if it is becoming more frequent in these darker and drab days and you feel more lethargic and ‘low’ during the autumn and winter then there may be something worth looking at.  And that is vitamin D3.

Through the article I’ll give references to the peer reviewed articles that back up the science behind the claims.  Note that you may be required to sign up to read the full articles online but the journals should be on the shelf in any academic library.  And of course feel free to ask questions through the comments form below.

Many who supplement with vitamin D3, over a number of weeks claim to notice that  moods lighten, skin brightens and many get that spring back into their step which gives them the urge to hit the roads and keep on running through the long dark winters.  Small factors help runners work harder towards those spring personal goals such as a marathon or even a ten miler in the New Year and beyond. It’s not a miracle cure, but many people (especially in Northern areas) are deficient in this vitamin over winter and by addressing this as a long term addition to your lifestyle, it should make a difference to your health and training during the colder, darker months.

Cork Marathon & the misery of running in the rain (c) David Bradshaw

Now, you may be saying ‘hold on a minute, I eat well, can’t I just take a multivitamin?’ you may even be sceptical but listen up fellow runners: I am not a fan in general of multivitamins if you have a well rounded diet and most runners are somewhat health conscious about getting in a wide range of foods so popping a multivitamin on top of a well rounded diet just leads to expensive urine since you will urinate out the excess that your body doesn’t need. However, Vitamin D3 is not just a vitamin, it turns into a hormone in the body and – long story short – there are not enough rich food sources to get adequate amounts from your diet (although it is found in eggs and cod liver oil). Many foods fortified with vitamin D are fortified with vitamin D2 which does not provide the same positive hormonal changes as D3. You will need to get sufficient amounts through sunshine or supplementation. The northern hemisphere gets nowhere near enough sunshine to support our D3 levels throughout winter so supplementation is an easy route to go down.

Author Zoltan Roma of ‘[amazon_link id=”0920470823″ target=”_blank” ]Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin[/amazon_link]’ outlines why it is so important to runners, sportspeople and everyone else to supplement this powerful hormone. There now exists a hoard of research showing that its plays a pivotal role in overall hormonal health, especially the adrenal glands, blood sugar control, bone metabolism, digestion and nutrient absorption, fertility, heart and circulatory health, immune system health, mood and behaviour, blood pressure, pancreatic health, sleeping, weight control and carbohydrate and fat metabolism

It plays such a widespread role because it turns into a hormone. It’s also important to note is that it regulates your body’s calcium levels, which we all know means strong bones strong bones (need calcium!). Next to supplementation, sunshine is the best source, especially exposure to UVB light, which can generate up to 100,000 IU’s (international units – the common way of noting dosage of the vitamin) of vitamin D3 (this level has also been proven to be more effective for mood and depression than group therapy in studies).

Remember 10 minutes – (only 10! And without sunscreen – do not burn yourself!)  Interestingly a 2009 study performed in the University of Manchester showed that D3 supplementation increased the size of fast twitch muscle fibers. This would be especially helpful for sprinters for example (reference).

Two resources that I will point you too are thevitamindcouncil.org and the book mentioned earlier. Both will have a base of countless studies showing its benefits and will provide you with a comprehensive list of scientific studies to back up these claims.

So, how much should you take? You can get your vitamin D levels checked at your doctors. Research has proven that the adult recommend dosage (RDA) of 400IU’s holds no benefit, in fact you should start no lower than 1000IU’s and get your levels checked after 8 or so weeks at this dosage. You will know whether to increase or decrease your dosage based on the result.

So, if your training suffers from seasonal affective disorder or depression (SAD) at this time of year, this is something worth looking into. Do your research, it is not like any other vitamin, and it is a hormone, thus central to your overall health. I cannot stress enough how important this vitamin is. Vitamin B and C are very easily gotten through food, as is A. It may be worth supplementing magnesium with vitamin D3 as they work in synergy and you will have the added benefits of a better night’s sleep by taking magnesium too. If you are a cynic, all I will say is do your research. The evidence is there and the evidence is plentiful.

On a final point, the Irish government earlier this year emphasised the importance of making sure new-born babies get 400IUs vitamin D3, which is also the current RDA for adults, and with the current climate and recent financial news, why not take the extra step forward to make you healthier as a runner.

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