It has long been known that iron deficiency anemia can decrease an athlete’s VO2max, increase muscle fatigue and negatively affect aerobic training. Now a new study has shed light on the prevalence of iron deficiency among recreationally active men and women and has provided real-world strategies to reduce the risk.
Reporting their results in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that iron deficiency is more prevalent in recreational athletes than in the general population of young people of both genders. Although female athletes appear to be at greater risk for the condition than male athletes, the researchers warned that male athletes are not “immune” to the condition.
The study authors made the following suggestions:
- All athletes who participate in endurance sports should be screened for iron deficiency and iron depletion in order to reduce deleterious effects on training and performance.
- Endurance athletes should ensure that their diets include adequate amounts of iron from food sources; this is especially true for those who eat a strict vegetarian diet.
- Athletes should be made aware of nutrients and other compounds that can interfere with iron absorption.
- Sports nutritionists should educate athletes about the relationship between iron deficiency and athletic performance and should offer practical advice on simple ways to increase their dietary iron intake.
- Athletes who are iron deficient or who follow a vegetarian diet may require iron supplementation and ongoing monitoring by a physician.