Lifting the lid on the world of football

The Secret Physio
2 Jan, 2013

Always good to have fun in the sun

We all know that the weather varies in different parts of the country. Many players who have moved around the country at different clubs have commented how it’s so grey and damp in the North and it is significantly more sunny and dry in the South.

We all know the effects of too much sun but there is an increasing amount of recent evidence that a lack of sunshine can also affect your health and an athletes’ performance. We heard recently that Sir Alex Ferguson has gone to the lengths of installing sunbeds for players and is planning to give them time off during the winter months to “soak up some rays” in sunnier climes.

Sunlight is our most efficient way of getting Vitamin D, which is an essential ingredient in cellular reactions in the immune system, bone metabolism and muscle performance. In bone, a deficiency of Vitamin D leads to reduced bone density (osteopenia), vulnerability to stress fractures and, in severe cases, rickets.

This has been even seen lately in children who have been found to be deficient in Vitamin D due to overcautious parents using excessive amounts of high-factor sunscreen. In muscle, it has a role in increasing the size and percentage of type 2 muscle fibres, which can affect strength, speed and reaction time. It has also been shown to affect endurance and balance. A lack of Vitamin D also leads to chronic illness and repeated viral infections in athletes.

There are other ways of getting a hit of Vitamin D. Foods such as oily fish, liver, eggs, fortified cereals and milk all have this essential vitamin but you have to drink ten large glasses of milk to get the bare minimum dose. Many athletes take Vitamin D3 supplements with a daily dose of 5,000-10,000 IU per day in the winter or larger doses if they are found to be deficient.

This is a seasonal problem. In the summer months, players have their holidays in June and train in the July pre-season sun so they get their allocation via sunlight. But in the winter months, where the days are shorter, the sun weaker and not seen very often, there is a risk of insufficient exposure.

A regular blood test – at our club, it’s every eight to 12 weeks, depending on high-risk players – analyses those who have a low level of vitamin D3 in their system and we can supplement them accordingly.

So clubs can follow the Manchester United route of turning their players orange through artificial tanning beds and giving them time off to go on holiday, which the players would love. Or you get outside and get ten to 15 minutes of unprotected sun every day.

Obviously, if you live in the North-West, this isn’t easy. So your only other options are cod liver oil tablets or supplements.

About the author: The Secret Physio


I have been working in professional football for more than 15 years, operating at the highest level in the Premier League and experiencing the excitement of European nights. I've had both the pleasure and pain of working with various managers, coaches and players, all with their own ideas and philosophies.

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  1. Dude

    They’re not sunbeds. They’ve replaced the normal bulbs with just vitamin D bulbs. And it’s only 5-15 minutes a week for the black players who need it most. I’m black, I know this.

  2. William

    Not worth it in my humble opinion. The long term risk of skin cancer can be easily avoided by simple supplementation rather than a sunbed.

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