The nutritional deficiency plaguing elite NFL athletes

One of the biggest dangers elite NFL players face is something you might never suspect — a nutritional deficiency.

In fact, a new study found that a shocking number of professional football players have low levels of vitamin D, making them much more vulnerable to career-shattering injuries.

I often write about this critical nutrient in terms of preventing and reversing a host of chronic diseases. Yesterday, I told you about a recent study showing low levels of vitamin D significantly increase the risk of colon cancer. And just last month, I told you about six reasons why you may still be vitamin D deficient, even if you supplement daily.

But a vitamin D deficiency isn’t something we typically associate with young, healthy athletes. So, let’s take a closer look at this surprising, new study…

The supplement that could help sideline injuries

NFL players run a higher risk of developing serious injuries due to the aggressive nature of the game and rigorous training. And football has one of the highest rates of injuries overall compared to other professional sports.

But it turns out, vitamin D status can play a major role in preventing these injuries in the first place…

For this new study, researchers analyzed health data on 214 players who participated in the 2015 NFL Combine. (The Combine is a week-long showcase where college players perform mental and physical tests for NFL coaches, managers, and scouts in hopes of being chosen to play in the professional league.)

Researchers found that 59 percent of the Combine athletes had “insufficient” vitamin D levels. And 10 percent were outright “deficient.” Previous research had shown up to 80 percent of NFL players and about 86 percent of college football players may be vitamin D deficient.

Furthermore, African-Americans were significantly more likely to have low vitamin D status.

The physical risk of low D levels

The researchers ultimately found that those with low D levels had a much greater risk of developing muscle injuries and strains. In fact, players with low vitamin D had nearly double the risk of core and lower limb injuries…and almost quadruple the risk of hamstring injuries.

Of course, even mainstream medicine knows vitamin D plays a key role in bone health. And prior research has linked a vitamin D deficiency with the following physical ailments:

  • Increased risk of fracture
  • Decreased muscle function
  • Increased musculoskeletal pain
  • Reduced muscle fiber size

On the flip side of this coin, research has shown that supplementation with vitamin D helps reduce muscle fatigue and increase cardiopulmonary exercise capacity ( the maximum ability your body has to deliver oxygen to your exercising muscles, and for your muscles to get oxygen from the blood).

That’s why the results of this study are all the more shocking…

You’d think checking for — and correcting — a vitamin D deficiency would be one of the first things the college and NFL trainers would do.

Thankfully, the Vitamin D Council — a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate the public on vitamin D, sun exposure, and health — is raising awareness on this topic, particularly to athletes of all competition levels and abilities. They recommend all athletes supplement with 5,000 to 10,000 IU vitamin D3 daily, especially if they don’t get adequate sun exposure.

And remember — although 10,000 IU may sound “high,” it’s actually a minuscule amount when compared to other vitamins and minerals that are expressed according to mass (like milligrams). (The U.S. government is even beginning to move to expressing vitamin D according to mass instead of IU.)

Protection strong enough for NFL athletes

Of course, athletes aren’t the only ones who should be supplementing with vitamin D3. The benefits extend to us “average Joe’s” too.

Not only can vitamin D help you prevent musculoskeletal injuries, it can also help protect you against a host of chronic diseases in the long-term.

So, do yourself a huge favor and get started with these three simple steps:

  1. Ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels twice a year — once toward the end of summer and again toward the end of winter. Just ask for a simple blood test called the 25(OH)D (25-hydroxy vitamin D) test. (Optimal blood levels are between 50 and 75 nanomoles/Liter.)
  2. Spend 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen, especially this time of year, when the sun is high enough in the sky everywhere in the country to activate vitamin D in your skin.
  3. Last, supplement with 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, year-round. You can now find this dose in a convenient, highly-absorbable liquid form together with the potent marine carotenoid, astaxanthin, for added benefits. (For more information, simply type “astaxanthin” into the top right search bar of my website,

You may not be a professional athlete, or even exercise a great deal (which is completely fine — and actually what I recommend). Nevertheless — supplementing with vitamin D is one of the best ways to ensure you stay fit, healthy, and happy through this upcoming football season and many, many more!

P.S. Tune back in on Thursday for a report on the key nutrient that can protect you from heart problems.


“The Association of Vitamin D Status in Lower Extremity Muscle Strains and Core Muscle Injuries at the National Football League Combine,”  Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery, 2017 Apr;34(4):1280-1285