HomeAnswersDo endurance athletes need more iron?

Do endurance athletes need more iron?

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Sarah Achleithner, health and wellness writer
Yes, many endurance athletes have higher iron needs than the general population. Research indicates that 15-35% of female athletes and 3-11% of male athletes are deficient in iron [1]. Exercise increases hepcidin, an iron regulating hormone made in the liver, resulting in reduced iron availability [1]. However, other factors such as menstrual blood losses, altitude training, and inadequate intake can also contribute to low iron status in endurance athletes [1]. 
Female athletes have even higher iron needs due to menstrual blood losses and are twice as likely as sedentary women to develop iron deficiency [1,2]. Iron status of all athletes should be closely monitored, and iron supplements may be needed to restore normal levels. Iron deficiency anemia can take 3-6 months to correct, depending on baseline levels.
High iron foods including red meat, chocolate, spinach and liver
[1] Sim, M., Garvican-Lewis, L. A., Cox, G. R., Govus, A., McKay, A. K., Stellingwerff, T., & Peeling, P. (2019). Iron considerations for the athlete: a narrative review. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 119(7), 1463–1478. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04157-y  
[2] Pedlar, C. R., Brugnara, C., Bruinvels, G., & Burden, R. (2018). Iron balance and iron supplementation for the female athlete: A practical approach. European journal of sport science, 18(2), 295–305. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1416178