Monday, October 26, 2015

Iron and Women Athletes

Iron plays a key role in oxygen transport and energy production, making it a key micronutrient for all of us especially athletes interested in peak performance.  Iron deficiency is more common with athletes because intensive exercise increases iron loss, and female athletes are at even greater risk because of menstruation and insufficient dietary intake.  To combat this deficiency some dietitians have recommended athletes supplement with iron but this approach has been criticized by other dietitians because of the increased risk of iron toxicity associated with supplementation.  In addition to risks of toxicity other common side effect complaints from iron supplementation include nausea, abdominal discomfort, and constipation.

Sufficient iron is of importance to athletes because of its important roles with maximal oxygen carrying capacity to active muscles and efficient oxygen utilization, two aspects that are critical for performance.  The more oxygen you can deliver to muscles and the more efficient you get at using it, the more you enable yourself to work intensely for a longer period of time.  Iron can be found in dietary sources in two forms haem and non-haem, haem sources are derived from animals and non-haem from all other iron sources.  The absorption rate of haem sources is 40%, whereas the absorption rate for non-haem sources can greatly vary. 

Tannic acid (found in coffee and teas) and phosphates (found in soft drinks), along with calcium can decrease our iron absorption but fortunately vitamin C increases iron absorption. 
Consume foods rich in iron like:
-fortified cereals
-dried fruits,
-dark green leafy vegetables. 

Try avoiding thing like soda, coffee, and tea when you consume these iron rich sources to enhance maximal iron absorption and instead pair your iron rich foods with high vitamin C fruits and vegetables like citrus fruit, strawberries, papaya, bell peppers, and pineapples. 


Alaunyte, I., Stojceska, V., & Plunkett, A. (2015). Iron and the female athlete: A review of dietary treatment methods for improving iron status and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Erick Avila, owner of a company that provides individualized training programs and nutritional consultations for athletic events and weight loss. Erick works as a strength & conditioning coach/nutritionist with a variety of professional boxers including two ranked in the top 50 of their respective weight divisions.  He’s experienced having worked in both sport and clinical settings, with focuses ranging from general weight loss to hormonal optimization.  Erick has bachelors degrees in Exercise Science & Nutritional Science.