top of page


What Athletes Should Know

Iron is a mineral important for several roles throughout the body, particularly energy metabolism, oxygen transport from the lungs to organs and tissues, and maintaining acid-base balance within the body.

These critical functions mean iron deficiency directly impacts performance.

Iron deficiency is quite common in athletes, especially female athletes (due to menstruation), however male athletes can also be at risk.



Iron is lost each day through sweat, skin, urine, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and during menstruation.

High intensity and endurance-type exercise, common in athletic training, increases iron losses through heavy sweating and the speed at which red blood cells are broken down to supply body tissues with oxygen.

Athlete iron losses can be more than double that of a sedentary person.



Athletes at greatest risk of deficiency:

  • Female athletes

  • Vegetarian/vegan athletes

  • Young athletes (growth increases needs)

  • Distance runners

  • Those training at high altitudes

  • Regular blood donors

  • Those dieting/underfueling



Symptoms of iron deficiency:

  • Weakness

  • Impaired muscle function

  • Fatigue/exhaustion

  • Decreased performance

  • Increased heart rate

  • Increased shortness of breath during exercise

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Poor appetite

  • Paleness

  • Sensitivity to cold



Dietary iron comes in 2 forms: heme & non-heme

Heme iron sources are animal-based and include meat, poultry, fish, oysters. Red meat is one of the richest sources of iron.

Non-heme sources are plant-based:

beans, lentils, tofu, baked potatoes, cashews, darky leafy greens (i.e. spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, & whole-grain and enriched breads.

The body absorbs 2-3 times more iron from animal sources than it does plant-based (non-heme) sources.

Vitamin C helps our bodies better absorb non-heme iron sources. Vegetarians and vegan athletes should pair non-heme iron sources with vitamin C rich foods to improve absorption.

Vitamin C rich foods:

  • Bell peppers

  • Oranges & OJ

  • Grapefruit

  • Broccoli

  • Strawberries

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Grapefruit

  • Tomato



Iron deficiency is diagnosed through blood tests, most commonly by assessing blood ferritin levels.

Iron supplementation without clinical evidence of low levels is discouraged as iron supplements can cause GI distress.

If you are experiencing symptoms of low iron, work with your physician and a Sports Dietitian to navigate dietary changes to improve iron intake and absorption, as well as to determine if an iron supplement may be appropriate for you.


Check out the Performance Nutrition Fuel-Kit Workshop!

This workshop includes everything you need to know to build a GAME WINNING fueling plan. It's the equivalent of working with me 1-on-1 for 3 months, all rolled into a self-paced online course!

All registrants will receive an incredible workbook that includes all my hottest handouts, worksheets, homework, comprehension check quizzes, and a ton of new resources I've created just for YOU!

Find this post helpful? Share this page with a friend! 

Make sure to SUBSCRIBE to stay up-to-date on my latest tips, tools, & resources. 

Questions? Need some help with your nutrition? Use the Contact Form to send me a message!
262 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 comentario

26 ago 2022

It should also be noted that coffee and tea may reduce or block completely the absorption of non-heme iron for plant-based individuals, due to their tannin content. Plant-based individuals should not drink tea or coffee about at least an hour before and two hours after a meal. It also helps increase absorption to spread out iron intake, as opposed to consuming it all at one big meal. Thankfully, there are many widely available plant-based sources of iron for these individuals to enjoy. A great option is mushrooms, not only because of their iron content (because there are other plant-based foods that contain more iron) but also because of the fact that they contain Vitamin C alongside the iron. Other options…

Me gusta
bottom of page