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Nutrition: All you need to know about Vitamin D and cycling

BikesEtc
15 Aug 2017

With the sun soon to go back into hibernation, make sure to get your fix of this vital nutrient

A quick history lesson. At the height of Britain’s coal-powered Industrial Revolution, the skies could be so thick with smoke over major cities that the sun was actually blocked out for days on end.

Many impoverished children growing up in these clattering manufacturing metropolises began to develop a condition known as rickets, which frequently caused their legs to bow beneath them as they grew.

The cause, scientists soon worked out, wasn’t just a lack of calcium in the diets of the poor but crucially a lack of vitamin D – a nutrient that we primarily get from the sun.

Today, we no longer use coal as our primary fuel source and while we still pollute the bejesus out of our beautiful planet, the skies are at least clear enough for the sunshine to reach our skins. At least some of the time.

As we all know, during the long, winter months, Britain’s skies are usually either pale and lifeless or stormy and gloomy with most of the country experiencing less than an hour of sunshine a day throughout January and February.

For cyclists, getting sufficient vitamin D into your system is especially important. Cycling is a non-impact, endurance exercise that causes you to sweat a lot.

This can affect your bone density, and indeed osteoporosis is a common disorder among riders, Chris Boardman being the most famous cycling sufferer of this condition.

Off the bike

Off-the-bike exercises with weights will help combat this, as will getting sufficient calcium into your diet. But vitamin D is also crucial to the mix because without it your body can’t absorb calcium properly.

With sunshine – the main source of this crucial vitamin – being in short supply around this time of year, it’s important to look for other ways to get it into your system.

According to the NHS, your body needs 10 micrograms (mcg) of the stuff a day and certainly no more than 100mcg – which can prove harmful. So what are the best ways of keeping your system topped up on sun-free days?

One solution is to take a supplement. British Cycling recommends using ‘a decent multi-vitamin to cover your nutritional bases’, which is certainly solid advice – try Holland & Barrett Ultra Man Caplets (£12.49 for 100 tablets).

Alternatively, try dosing up on Vitamin D alone, Solgar’s Vitamin D3 tablets (£7.69 for 90 tablets) will keep your bones healthy.

Both products are available from hollandandbarret.com. Otherwise, here are five foods rich in vitamin D that you should aim to get on your plate regularly...

Fatty fish

After sunlight, which promotes Vitamin D synthesis in the skin from cholesterol, there is arguably no better natural source of vitamin D to be found than consuming fatty fish.

If you go this route, choose tuna, wild salmon, sardines and mackerel when picking out a fishy dish. Or if you’re dead posh, or Russian (or perhaps both!) then treat yourself to some caviar, which is also a rich source of the stuff. 

Mushrooms

From April to September, sunlight should be able to provide you with sufficient vitamin D, providing you don’t block it all out with sunscreens.

Mushrooms don’t tend to wear sun lotion, so if exposed to enough sunlight can also be a rich source of vitamin D.

In fact, Tesco recently launched a new Vitamin D-enhanced range that includes Chestnut, Baby Chestnut and Portobello. See tesco.com for details.

Breakfast cereals

Research shows that increasing the levels of vitamin D in your bloodstream can also increase your aerobic capacity.

So during the darker months, why not make your pre-ride breakfast a big bowl of cereal that’s had the vitamin D levels turned up to 11.

Kellogg’s has fortified its breakfast cereals with D vitamins for years, so you won’t have to look far to find one you like.

Tofu

If you’re a vegan, one of the best ways of getting vitamin D into your diet is by eating tofu. Also packed with protein, zinc, calcium and cholesterol-busting omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a fine source of vitamin D.

Although, as with all the other foods on this list, you’ll need to eat it along with other vitamin-D rich foods to get enough into your system when the sun hasn’t got his hat on.

Eggs and dairy products

Eggs are awesome for cyclists. They’re rich in protein, so a great fuel for developing lean muscle, while their relatively high vitamin D content makes them a must this time of year.

Milk’s good, too, with most dairies fortify the stuff with vitamin D, while a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2008 found that eating vitamin-D fortified cheeses was as effective as taking a supplement.

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