Iron for Athletes
The major function of iron in the body is in the formation of compounds such as haemoglobin that are essential for the transport and utilization of oxygen. Iron is a required component cytochromes and enzymes within the mitochondria, making iron also an essential component for brain development and cognitition.
For the athlete, the reduction of iron stores could have effects on the capacity for oxygen transport and utilization within the blood and muscle system, athlete motivation, concentration and hence decision making during play.
Anemia caused by iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It is well known that athletes are at greater risk of iron deficiency than the general population, due to the items listed below, and it should be managed to ensure there is no performance detriments.
The following situations effect the iron status of the athlete:
- Low dietary intake of iron
- Increased erythropoietic drive – related to any endurance style training
- Footstrike haemolysis – for any running sports
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Anti-inflammatory drug use – which is common in most sports
- Menstruation - losses of 1mg/day for normal cycles, and up to 3-5mg/day for heavy losses
- Inflammatory mediators
- Sweating – particularly in very hot and humid environments
- Absorption of iron in the gut affected by other diseases e.g coeliac
The body takes in iron from the food we eat. Therefore it is important to have a balanced diet with adequate sources of iron.
Good dietary sources of iron are:
- Red meat
- Green vegetables (e.g. spinach, silverbeet and broccoli)
- Lentils and beans
- Dried fruit
In some cases, supplementation of iron may be necessary. You should consult a medical practitioner who can assess your blood levels and prescribe appropriate action such as dietary changes, supplementation and blood infusion.
- Hepcidin and The Management of the Athlete’s Iron Status
- Macronutrients for athletes
- Blood testing for athletes
- All about Sports Nutrition