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Are athletes realizing the importance of vitamin D before the general public?

Posted on: March 24, 2017   by  Amber Tovey


A recent study found that the vast majority of National Hockey League (NHL) players have healthy vitamin D levels, with none of the players being considered deficient.

Research continues to highlight the importance of vitamin D for human health. Studies show that vitamin D improves the immune system and reduces inflammation, making it an important factor for overall health.

Despite the increased knowledge of vitamin D, at least one third of the global population remains vitamin D deficient. Although, recent studies have suggested that professional athletes have begun realizing the importance of vitamin D before many others.

In 2016, the Wall Street Journal published an article stating, “Professional and college sports teams think they have found a cutting-edge advantage hidden in one of the most basic nutrients: vitamin D.” This strategy for optimizing players’ performance and injury resistance came as no surprise to the scientific community.

Within the past decade, research has illustrated the beneficial effects of vitamin D supplementation for athletic performance. A meta-analysis from 2015 summarized the ways vitamin D affected athletic performance, which included increasing the amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize, improving force and power, reducing muscle inflammation and increasing testosterone production.

In 2006, we first wrote about vitamin D deficiency and athletes. A year later, we wrote about how the Chicago Blackhawks started giving all their players 5,000 IU/day and went from last place to winning the Stanley Cup in two years. The Blackhawks had the vitamin D advantage, because no other team was supplementing with vitamin D back in 2008. This is no longer the case; now the Blackhawks have to compete with vitamin D sufficient teams.

Back then, it seemed as if no one was listening; so, Cannell wrote a book on athletic performance and vitamin D. We now know some professional football teams are supplementing their players and, we suspect, professional basketball teams are as well.

A recent study revealed that NHL players have also caught on to the importance of vitamin D for athletic performance. In this study, researchers assessed the vitamin D levels of 105 professional hockey players from three different NHL teams. The study revealed that none of the hockey players were vitamin D deficient as defined by levels less than 20 ng/ml. In fact, the average vitamin D status was 45.8 ng/ml, a status within the Vitamin D Council’s recommended range of 40-60 ng/ml. A total of 87% of players were considered vitamin D sufficient, leaving 13.3% insufficient. Furthermore, 68 players (64.8%) had ideal vitamin D statuses as defined by levels above 40 ng/ml.

The researchers summarized,

“This is the first study to evaluate vitamin D levels in professional hockey players, noting a low prevalence of deficiency despite the indoor nature of the sport.”

The study also determined that vitamin D sufficient players were nearly three years older than vitamin D insufficient players.

The researchers stated,

“A possible explanation for this would include improved performance, fewer injuries, and increased career longevity in vitamin D sufficient players.”

Unfortunately, the researchers were unable to evaluate the percentage of NHL players supplementing with vitamin D. However, due to the high prevalence of optimal vitamin D levels, one would assume most players were supplementing.

While it’s exciting to see professional athletes realizing the importance of vitamin D for optimal health and athletic performance, athletes are not the only ones who will benefit from supplementation.

We hope our readers all continue to disseminate information on the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and the importance of its correction. Together, we can make a difference for public health.


Tovey, A. & Cannell, JJ. Professional hockey players have healthy vitamin D levels. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, February 2, 2017.


Mehran, N. et al. Original Research Prevalence of Vitamin D Insufficiency in Professional Hockey Players. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016.

3 Responses to Are athletes realizing the importance of vitamin D before the general public?

  1. [email protected]

    VitaminDwiki discovered this study via VDC and made the following page
    NHL discovers Vitamin D – underdog team paved the way 5 years before
    which includes a great chart and links to many other sports teams around the world which have also “discovered” vitamin D during the past 5 years.

  2. Ron Carmichael

    As an elite level coach for USA Archery (Level IV-NTS & USOC Order of Ikkos recipient) I was very militant regarding the necessity of D to drive oligodendrocytic activity, enhancing myelin and leading to “muscle memory”. SOME of my fellow coaches “GOT IT”, while others disregarded the information. The best influence on many athletes comes from trusted coaches, but also from fellow athletes and team mates who provide peer pressure to not “get left behind” on a good thing.

  3. Ron Carmichael

    I should also emphasize that during periodization training, vitamin D deficiency will greatly impede the athlete’s ability to supercompensate. Routine elite training involves damaging muscle (aka “exercise”) with the expectation of the body being able to rebuild it “bigger, better, stronger, and twitchier”, and this purposeful creation of inflammation in the tissues and bones cannot be optimally mitigated without ALL of the building blocks from yes, amino acids, minerals, trace elements, adequate hydration, and of course, VITAMIN D.
    Elite athletes are at particular risk, as their fires burn brighter internally, and acquiring adequate nutrients sufficient to the need becomes evermore difficult the higher they rise.

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