Vitamin D is an essential micronutrient and hormone that helps us absorb calcium, build our bones, and keep our bones strong. As you can imagine, optimal skeletal health is vital in athletes and individuals who regular exercise. Bones are what support our strength and movement — without healthy bones, we cannot be active. Because vitamin D is an essential nutrient, we’re unable to synthesize it on our own and need to take it in from our environment, which can come from either sunlight or food.

But don’t worry, you don’t need that much sun either. When we’re exposed to sunlight, our skin converts cholesterol into vitamin D. Spending 5-15 minutes in sunlight, 3x a week, will account for all the vitamin D you’ll need. But for those colder and more cloudy months, or for those of us that don’t make it outside enough, consuming enough vitamin D is important. Otherwise, we risk compromised bone health.

The bad news is that many people don’t get adequate vitamin D from their food intake. In fact, vitamin D is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in the country. According to NHANES data, it’s estimated that 42% of the United States population is vitamin D deficient. This part of the population is more likely to suffer from slips and falls, bone fractures, lower back pain, and impaired wound healing.

So how do you know if you’re deficient? Some risk factors for vitamin D deficiency include obesity, lack of college education, lack of dairy milk and seafood consumption, mobility issues, and age above 65 years. Furthermore, both African Americans and Hispanics have a higher risk for developing a vitamin D deficiency due to increased melanin levels in the skin. If you meet any of the above mentioned criteria or you spend minimal time in sunlight, it could be helpful to get your vitamin D levels tested.

Regardless, it’s always good to stay on top of your nutrition. Good sources of vitamin D include dairy and plant milk, anchovies and sardines, oysters, shrimp, salmon, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified cereal products. If you are vegetarian, vegan, or avoid seafood, a supplement product may be best for you. Look for vitamin D supplements that contain 1000 – 4000 IU or 25 – 100 micrograms. That should be enough to optimize blood levels in most people.

Have any questions about your vitamin D intake? Reach out to Omni Fight Club’s very own registered dietitian, Beth-Elle Schussler! You can send her an email at bethschussler@omnifightclub.com.