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Background:

A high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency/deficiency, which may impact on health and training ability, is evident among athletes worldwide. This observational study investigated the vitamin D status of elite Irish athletes and determined the effect of wintertime supplementation on status.

Methods:

Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], calcium, and plasma parathyroid hormone were analyzed in elite athletes in November 2010 (17 boxers, 33 paralympians) or March 2011 (34 Gaelic Athletic Association [GAA] players). A subset of boxers and paralympians (n = 27) were supplemented during the winter months with either 5,000 IU vitamin D3/d for 10–12 weeks or 50,000 IU on one or two occasions. Biochemical analysis was repeated following supplementation.

Results:

Median 25(OH)D of all athletes at baseline was 48.4 nmol/L. Vitamin D insufficiency/deficiency (serum 25(OH)D <50 nmol/L) was particularly evident among GAA players (94%) due to month of sampling. Wintertime supplementation (all doses) significantly increased 25(OH)D (median 62.8 nmol/L at baseline vs. 71.1 nmol/L in April or May; p = .001) and corrected any insufficiencies/deficiencies in this subset of athletes. In contrast, 25(OH)D significantly decreased in those that did not receive a vitamin D supplement, with 74% of athletes classed as vitamin D insufficient/deficient after winter, compared with only 35% at baseline.

Conclusions:

This study has highlighted a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency/deficiency among elite Irish athletes and demonstrated that wintertime vitamin D3 supplementation is an appropriate regimen to ensure vitamin D sufficiency in athletes during winter and early spring.

Magee, Pourshahidi, and Wallace are with the Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health, University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Cleary and Madigan are with the Irish Institute of Sport, Sports Campus Ireland, Abbottstown, Dublin, Ireland. Conway is with Paralympics Ireland, Dublin, Ireland. Harney is with the Down County Board, Castlewellan, Northern Ireland.