Background: Adults living in the sunny Australian climate are at high risk of skin cancer, but vitamin D deficiency (defined here as a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentration of less than 50 nmol/L) is also common. Vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for a range of diseases. However, the optimal strategies to achieve and maintain vitamin D adequacy (sun exposure, vitamin D supplementation or both), and whether sun exposure itself has benefits over and above initiating synthesis of vitamin D, remain unclear. The Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Supplementation (SEDS) Study aims to compare the effectiveness of sun exposure and vitamin D supplementation for the management of vitamin D insufficiency, and to test whether these management strategies differentially affect markers of immune and cardio-metabolic function. Methods/Design: The SEDS Study is a multi-centre, randomised controlled trial of two different daily doses of vitamin D supplementation, and placebo, in conjunction with guidance on two different patterns of sun exposure. Participants recruited from across Australia are aged 18-64 years and have a recent vitamin D test result showing a serum 25(OH)D level of 40-60 nmol/L. Discussion: This paper discusses the rationale behind the study design, and considers the challenges but necessity of data collection within a non-institutionalised adult population, in order to address the study aims. We also discuss the challenges of participant recruitment and retention, ongoing engagement of referring medical practitioners and address issues of compliance and participant retention.