Iron is essential for oxygen to be carried in the blood. Without enough iron there are physical symptoms and for athletes and a decrease in sports performance.

Take Iron-Deficiency Anemia Seriously

Woman Running

Iron-deficiency anemia is a health condition that occurs most often in women of child bearing years, but also in athletes, especially female and adolescent athletes. It is more common in athletes who swim, row, play soccer and basketball, and run.

Iron is essential for oxygen to be carried in the blood. Without enough iron there are physical symptoms and for athletes and a decrease in sports performance.

Who is at risk for iron-deficiency anemia?

  • All females, especially those in the childbearing years
  • Vegetarians or vegans
  • Endurance athletes
  • Those with a low calorie intake, either by choice with dieting or by insufficient food supply
  • Blood loss from menstruation, recent surgery, GI bleeds, etc.
  • Poor absorption of iron from medication use, such as anti-inflammatory meds or antacids

What are the symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia?

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Brittle nails
  • Shortness of breath

A simple blood test can provide insight into whether a person has iron deficiency or not. The treatment is usually an iron supplement, either ferrous sulfate or ferrous gluconate.

Once your iron stores are back to normal, maintenance will require daily inclusion of dietary sources of iron. They are:

  • Heme iron: comes from animal foods and is absorbed the best: oysters and beef are very good sources.
  • Non-heme iron: from plant foods is not absorbed as well, but when combined with vitamin C food sources, there is higher absorption.
  • Non-heme foods include fortified cereals, tofu, lentils, dried beans and peas, and spinach.
  • Vitamin C foods to assist with iron absorption include strawberries, kiwi; pineapple, orange and grapefruit juices; bell peppers, broccoli, greens, cabbage and tomatoes. Having a tofu stir fry with broccoli and peppers is a great combo.

Recipes to try:


About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.