This is quit a common saying that can be heard in the hills of east Tennessee this time of year.
Football season is upon us. Particularly, college football season and the Tennessee volunteers. The night air has cooled (a bit). Summer camps have ended. It is time for football. I won’t hide my allegiance to the Tennessee volunteers. I am a vol for life. Where ever your allegiance lies, Georgia, Ohio State, or heaven forbid Alabama (just a friendly jab for all my Bama friends), these are exciting times.
This is the time of year that all fans can be excited. All fans can chant “we are #1”. All teams have no losses. The sky is the limit. Optimism is as real as the coming change of leaves. Yet, there is one thing that can quickly dash all hopes and optimism—it is called injuries. A recent article highlighting the injury situation at Tennessee after pre-season camp caught my attention.
Every team deals with preseason injuries. It is a part of the grind of the preseason camps and the game itself. Are football and other sport injuries inevitable and just a part of the game or are they preventable? Of course, some of the injuries in sports are due to contact and likely unavoidable. But, can other injuries be avoided? I would say the scientific literature points to yes.
Sports injuries are multifactorial. Many injuries are the result of poor technique and fatigue. Nutritional deficiencies, whether micronutrient and/or macronutrient, are potential significant contributors to injuries. This points to proper nutrition, not simply eating calories, as key to injury prevention. Proper nutrition requires customization to meet each individual’s metabolic demand. Poor recovery techniques in the face of the significant physical demand is a significant, common cause (often overlooked) at all levels of football. But, there is one vitamin deficiency that is easy to check, easy to treat, and has been shown to be associated with an increase in sport injuries. That vitamin is vitamin D.
The evidence that vitamin D supports optimal athletic performance is not anything new. The first study to look at vitamin D, through UV irradiation, was in 1938 in Russia. Russian researchers found that one dose of UV irradiation improved 100 meter dash time. The Germans followed with studies in the 1940s and 1950s and found vitamin D, again through UV irradiation, improved athletic performance. Couple that with more recent research (highlighted below) and that is almost 100 years of research that links vitamin D to improved athletic performance.
Is there evidence to support a link between vitamin D and sports related injuries? Historical, the answer is yes. But, what about more recent, relevant data? Just search pubmed. It is estimated that 77% of the general population is vitamin D deficient and athletes are no exception. A simply search of vitamin D and sport injury yields 77 articles. What does more recent evidence show on vitamin D and athletic performance? What does recent evidence show on vitamin D and sports injuries? Let the evidence speak for itself.
- vitamin D improves muscle strength (type II muscle fibers) in those with vitamin D deficiency. Type II muscle fibers are critical to sports requiring short, explosive bursts of energy.
- low vitamin D levels are associated with muscle atrophy (type II muscle fibers).
- low vitamin D levels are associated with increased muscle injury in NFL football players.
- vitamin D therapy is associated with improved athletic performance in those individuals that are vitamin D deficient
- improved athletic performance was found in summer months with decline in performance during winter months
- vitamin D levels directly correlate with muscle strength, mass, and function
- vitamin D plus calcium reduce stress fractures in athletes
- vitamin D directly correlates with muscle power and force
- increased grip strength found in those with normal vitamin D levels versus low vitamin D levels
- vitamin D therapy improved healing following rotator cuff injury in animal model
- low vitamin D is associated with impaired recovery following ACL surgical repair
- there is even evidence to suggest that low vitamin D levels are associated with over training syndrome and that vitamin D shortens the recovery phase following exercise.
- vitamin D therapy reduces muscle pain in those that athletes that are vitamin D deficient.
- low vitamin D levels are significantly associated with disrupted Testosterone synthesis and signaling. Testosterone is critical in the recovery phase of exercise/training.
We could go on and on. For example, higher vitamin D levels correlate with a reduction in cold and flu incidence in division I athletes. But, we have to stop somewhere.
The evidence points to the fact that low vitamin D is associated with increased injury and poor healing in athletes. Poor healing, even without injury, will increase the risk of future injury. Anyway you look at it, vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased injury. In contrast, optimal vitamin D has been shown to improve athletic performance (remember the Russians and the Germans). More recently, vitamin D levels positively correlate with muscle strength, mass, and performance. The key is to remember that the vitamin D levels were are referencing here are not for the prevention of rickets. None of these athletes are at risk for rickets. The goal with vitamin D is to promote optimal physiologic performance and to reduce injury.
Optimal physiologic vitamin D levels may or may not translate to more wins. The most important result, literature suggests, could be fewer injuries for athletes and increased performance. Fewer injuries to all players would likely translate into a safer sport and likely more wins. Could 1 injury make that much of a difference to a team. Take a starting quarterback out for 2-3 weeks and this may translate into a swing of 2-3 games. Everybody knows the difference a 7-4 season versus a 9-2 season, or perhaps even a 10-1 season could make for the players, the coaches, the University, and the fans.
Are the injuries this camp with the Tennessee Volunteers just coincidence? Interesting that the same coincidence occurred last year. Or could these injuries have a common, easily treatable contributing cause? I am not sure how the Volunteers follow the health of their athletes, but I hope a check of vitamin D levels is involved. Is vitamin D the panacea? Of course not. But, when 90% of black athletes and 75% of white athletes are severely vitamin D deficient, it could translate to fewer injuries (best for all), better performance, and more victories. Maybe the sky is the limit with vitamin D and it is so easy.