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Iron Levels for Athletic Performance

A gene variation for iron overload affects athletic performance.

Blood test showing iron levels

People with a naturally higher tissue-iron content that remains below toxic levels may enjoy a competitive advantage in endurance sport because of the boost the iron levels give to their oxygen-carrying capacity.

University of Toronto researchers have recently shown that a genetic variation known as the homeostatic iron regulator may help an athlete’s endurance performance. They found that men genetically at risk for iron overload performed 8% better and had a 17% greater oxygen-carrying capacity than those at low risk of overload.

“Increasing iron intake might not be ideal for athletes who already have the elevated risk genotype, but athletes with the low-risk genotypes could potentially benefit from increasing their iron stores,” said senior study author Ahmed El-Sohemy, PhD, professor in UT’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. “Genetic testing and supervision by a healthcare professional to monitor iron status could be an effective way for athletes to optimize endurance performance.”

The study did not include women. It was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2021; 53 [7], 1385–90).

See also: Iron Deficiency in America

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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