We asked the dietitians at SportsRDpro to answer a few questions about Iron.

Iron status should be well monitored in athletes. It plays a critical role in physical endurance! Did you know you can lose iron through sweat as well as blood loss? In order to get sufficient iron as an athlete it is recommended for you to maximize your iron intake through food sources such as dark leafy greens, variety of other vegetables and fruits, high-fiber cereals, meats (highest source), and eggs. You can increase the absorption rate from these foods by adding vitamin C.

When levels of iron are low, fatigue, weakness and difficulty maintaining body temperature often result. Other symptoms may include:

  • Pale skin and fingernails
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Glossitis (inflamed tongue)

How much iron do I really need?

Here are the current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for iron:

What about vegetarian/vegan athletes?

Athletes who choose to consume plant-based diets can still meet their protein, vitamin, and mineral needs by consuming a variety of foods. Vegans need to consume greater portions of plant-based proteins in order to reach their recommended daily protein intake in order to promote recovery.  Iron found in plant sources is NOT absorbed as efficiently as iron from an animal source. Athletes who are susceptible to iron deficiency, such as females and endurance athletes, should regularly get their iron levels checked. Vegan athletes should ensure they are getting all the amino acids they would from meat and other animal products by consuming complementary proteins (legumes with grains, legumes with seeds/nuts, soy milk with any other plant based protein) and ensure adequate iron levels by consuming a variety of foods like (spinach, beans, grains that are enriched, like rice and bread, and some fortified breakfast cereals).

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