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Vitamin D – Why it’s important and how to best to supplement (3 minute read)

This short post will detail why Vitamin D is so important and if you’re not blessed to live in a predominantly sunny part of the world, I’ll give you a strategy on how to best supplement for it.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is mainly produced via the action of sunlight on the skin. It does a super critical job, but most of the population (in the UK anyway), are deficient. As a deficiency, this can be especially a problem for athletes.

Why it’s important

Vitamin D is probably best associated for it’s role in supporting strong teeth and promoting the growth and strengthening of healthy bones. This is as it helps you to absorb calcium and phosphorous from your food whilst helping to regulate the concentration of calcium in the body, known as calcium homeostasis.

Additional to its role in bone health, Vitamin D is also important for normal skeletal muscle development and in optimising muscle strength and performance. For example, supplementation with various forms of Vitamin D in older adults has mostly shown reduction in fall risk and improvements in tests of muscle performance.

A lesser known fact is that vitamin D is essential in maintaining the health and functioning of your immune system. Vitamin D enhances the pathogen-fighting effects of monocytes and macrophages — white blood cells that are important parts of your immune defense — and decreases inflammation, which helps promote immune response.

Vitamin D’s role within immune system defence is important when considering anyone who is placing a high level of additional physiological and/or psychological stress upon their body. A perfect example is the hard training athlete preparing for competition. The pressure of maintaining a high training load additional to the phycological burden of competing can mean such athletes are vulnerable to compromised immune systems and as such, at a higher risk of picking up infections and viruses.

Food Sources

Although the primary and preferred source of Vitamin D is via sun exposure, there are some food sources that contain a small amount.

These are:

  • oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • red meat
  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals

Supplements

Vitamin D is definitely one of the few micronutrients where a food first approach is not preferred. Vitamin D3 should be the chosen supplemental form as it’s more effective at maintaining blood Vitamin D levels than the plant form known as Vitamin D2.

There are different forms of supplemental Vitamin D such as tablets, gummies and oral sprays. A randomised, controlled trial (the gold standard of testing whether treatments work) published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019 concluded that sprays are just as effective as tablets, but not better. 

Do beware however of added sugar that can be found in gummies, especially if buying for children. Also be mindful of added sodium in Vitamin D effervescent tablets, as salt can raise blood pressure when taken in excess.

Daily dose

The recommended daily allowances, (RDA), for Vitamin D do vary fairly widely across the globe. The European Union for instance advises 5ug/200 IU daily, the UK states an RDA of 10 ug/400 IU and the United States promote 15ug/600 IU daily.

Research indicates for both woman and men over 14 years old, that 15ug/600 IU (or for over 70s 20ug/800 IU), is needed for optimum bone health. However, the amount taken to maintain or optimise immune function may be much higher, although admittedly further research is needed. Do be aware though that taking daily doses of 100ug/4,000 IU can be harmful.

Whether male or female, if you are an athlete or finding yourself particularly susceptible to picking up illnesses, try taking a daily oral supplement of 25ug/1,000 IU from early autumn until early spring to best benefit from vitamin D.

Maybe most importantly of all however, is always try to maximise your sun exposure as this will cost you nothing and can likely only benefit your wellbeing. This obviously has to be done safely, especially in the middle of summer, but don’t be afraid to get out there in the shorts and vest!

Chocolate & Almond Protein Balls


These little morsesum morsels are a great go-to snack, just don’t take them all out with you at once as being disciplined with them is not easy!!


Before we get down to the recipe, let’s have a quick look at the nutritional benefits provided by these tasty little treats..

Almonds are a standout here, because as well as providing a good dose of vitamin E, manganese and magnesium, they’re also a great source of heart healthy monounsaturated fat.

Although of particular importance for athletes, the macronutrient protein is also and essential for everybody’s daily food intake. I’ve talked a number of times about the importance of protein but please check this previous post about how much protein an athlete needs; https://nutrition4fighters.co/2020/12/31/how-much-protein-does-an-athlete-need-2-minute-read/


I prefer to use whey protein over other options such as plant based pea or soy protein for example. This is due to whey being easy for the body to absorb and as a source of protein, it is nutritionally ‘complete’. This is in reference to, unlike many plant proteins, whey being a source of the 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) that the body can’t create itself and needs to obtain from food.

Lastly, but far from least, let’s have a quick look at the main ingredient, dates. Dates are high in carbohydrates but are also a source of fibre, meaning they won’t raise your blood sugars to quickly.

Dates are a good source of various vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper and vitamin B6. They are also a great source of antioxidants and when compared to similar types of fruit, such as figs and dried plums, they appear to have the highest antioxidant content.

Antioxidants are important for supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. In dates you can find the 3 most powerful antioxidants:

  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation and have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and certain types of cancer.

  • Carotenoids: Carotenoids are proven to promote heart health and may also reduce the risk of eye-related disorders, such as macular degeneration.

  • Phenolic acid: Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, phenolic acid may help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Ingredients

  • 250g Dates
  • Semi skimmed milk 1/4 cup
  • 25g scoop of protein of choice (I opt for whey)
  • Almond powder 30g
  • Cocoa 20g
  • Almond powder 20g

Instructions

  • Ensure dates are de-stoned before blending up. You may have to scrape down the side and re-blend a few times to ensure an even consistency.
  • Add additional dry ingredients aside from 20g of almond powder and re-blend.
  • Add milk and re-blend whilst again ensuring an even consistency.
  • Place 20g of ground almonds into a bowl by itself and set aside.
  • Take a teaspoon and remove a dollop of mixture of around 1 inch in diameter. Now roll into a ball in the palm of your hands and set each one aside.
  • Upon completing rolling all the mixture into balls, start rolling each one in the 30g of ground almond set aside. When each is consistently covered place to one side.
  • Place all the balls in the fridge for 30/45 minutes to chill and enjoy!

Total Kcal: 770 kcal (per batch)

Chicken & Chickpea Curry

Welcome back to Nutrition 4 Fighters. These recipe posts aim to give you not just tasty options but also to drop a little knowledge about where they fit in to a sportspersons schedule and just why and when they make for good choices! This recipe is a great midday lunch option, or if you’re not training, a great dinner choice.

On this one, I’m shunning the super impressive and nutritious staple that is chicken breast, and advising going with chicken thighs. Thighs often fail to get lorded due to not being the leanest, but such cuts with darker meat and skin have their own unique qualities.

Nutrients such as collagen in the skin of chicken is good for nails, hair and joints for example. There are also less well known qualities in the darker meat, such as anti inflammatory properties and a higher ratio of micronutrients like iron, zinc, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamins B6 and B12.

This is not not a meal that will optimise recovery or performance either just before or just after training, as it is pretty slow digesting. It is however one that will provide macro and micronutrient density that’ll support your digestion, immune function and provide consistent physical and mental energy levels throughout the day. Lastly, and crucially important, it’s also pretty tasty!

Ingredients:(Serves 2)

  • 2 x chicken thighs
  • 1/2 tin of chick peas (200g) drained 
  • 1 x medium potato
  • 100g fat free Greek yogurt 
  • 1 x medium onion
  • 2 x cup of broccoli 
  • 1/2 x tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 x tbsp of turmeric 
  • 1 x tbsp of cumin 
  • 1 x tbsp of thyme
  • 1 x tsp of mustard powder (or chilli powder)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 200c. Now chop and cube the potato and place in dish in the oven. Allow to cook for 10-15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, dice the onion and chicken up, putting to one side in separate bowls.
  • Chop up the broccoli into roughly 1/2 to 1 inch sized pieces. Also place to one side.
  • Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan. Add the spices and mix over a gentle heat with a wooden spoon until they are combined.
  • Initially add the onions and sauté on a low heat until they’re translucent. Now add the chicken and continue to stir for around 5 minutes until the chicken appears nearly cooked through.
  • Add broccoli and continue to stir on a low heat until chicken is completely cooked through and the broccoli is at your desired tenderness.
  • Remove potatoes from the oven and add to the curry along with the yogurt and drained chickpeas.
  • Allow the curry to heat through, serve and enjoy!

Total calories: 623kcal per serving

Eggy Bread & Jam


This recipe is the perfect option to fuel both a heavy training day or just a super active one. You’ve got all you nutrient bases covered with a healthy dose of easily digestible protein, slow release carbohydrates, fats, vitamins & minerals.

Ingredients:

  • 2 x large eggs
  • 2 x slices of brown bread
  • 2 x tsp of Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 x tsp of coconut oil

Jam:

  • 1/2 x cup of frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 x cup of frozen raspberries
  • 1 x tbsp of water
  • 2 x tsp of chia seeds
  • 1 x tsp of honey

Method:

  • Crack both eggs into a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Poor contents into baking size container in which both slices of bread can fit.
  • Place both pieces of bread side by side into container. Allow them to absorb for 1/2 minutes until flipping over and repeat until all the egg absorbed.
  • Melt the coconut oil on low heat and ensure the pan is well covered. Now place the pieces of bread next to each other and cook on a low to medium heat 4/5 minutes each side until done.
  • Sprinkle over the cinnamon and top with the jam before serving.

Total Calories (without jam): 380kcalTotal Calories (with jam): 500kcal