Iron Deficiency and Athletes
Iron deficiency is an all-too-common nutrient deficiency that is more likely to affect certain groups and populations than others. Athletes of all types - professional, amateur and “weekend warrior” enthusiasts – are more at risk of iron deficiency than other groups of people. Iron deficiency can result in fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating and poor circulation. As you can imagine, none of these symptoms are good news for athletes!
Iron is used to make hemoglobin in red blood cells, which then carries and distributes life-giving, energizing oxygen throughout the body. Having sufficient iron ensures athletes’ energy levels, oxygen carrying capacity, heart rate and immune function are optimal – their athletic performance depends on it!
For a group that has increased iron needs due to accelerated iron loss, athletes, ironically, often face impaired iron absorption. Why is this? Athletes, due to the extended physical exertion and stress and strain of exercise, have to deal with things like gastro-intestinal micro-bleeds, foot-strike hemolysis, post-exercise hepcidin bursts and exercise induced inflammation resulting in increased iron loss and reduced iron absorption.
Let’s iron out the kinks in our understanding of some of these:
- Hepcidin is a hormone that helps regulate iron absorption in the gut and research shows that there’s a large increase of it post-exercise for both aerobic and resistance based workouts.
- Foot-strike hemolysis occurs for runners due to repetitive foot strikes causing temporary damage to the small capillaries and destruction of red blood cells.
- Intense and endurance based exercise can increase inflammation in the digestive tract, cause a variety of GI symptoms, lead to GI micro-bleeds and some minor loss of blood through the urinary tract.
The IOC Consensus Statement on Periodic Health Evaluation of Elite Athletes recommends iron deficiency screening, especially for female athletes. Male athletes are also at increased risk of iron deficiency though. In some studies, male runners and triathletes actually had higher incidences of iron deficiency anemia than their female counterparts – possibly because there’s less awareness around the issue. Many of our Flora sponsored athlete ambassadors are long distance and ultramarathon runners who, both male and female, include supplemental iron in their regimens in order to stay at the top of their game.
To prevent iron deficiency, Flora recommends regular use of either our Flora Iron+ with B-Vitamin Complex liquid formula or, for capsules, our Ferritin+ iron supplement. Both of these iron supplements were specifically chosen and formulated for optimal digestion and absorption so you can re-energize your life, without the common iron supplement side effects.