Do endurance athletes need more iron?

This question is about NutritionRunning and Cycling

Sarah Achleithner

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 [


]. Exercise increases hepcidin, an iron regulating hormone made in the liver, resulting in reduced iron availability [


]. However, other factors such as menstrual blood losses, altitude training, and inadequate intake can also contribute to low iron status in endurance athletes [



Female athletes have even higher iron needs due to menstrual blood losses and are twice as likely as sedentary women to develop iron deficiency [




]. 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.


[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.