Iron (Fe) and sports

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Iron is a mineral that helps the blood transport oxygen, an important point for athletes.

Where to find iron?

Foods with the highest iron content are blood sausages, pork, poultry and lamb livers, kidneys, dried meat (viande des Grisons), mussels, oysters, beef.

Iron and sports

Iron is essential to the synthesis of haemoglobin, a blood component that transports oxygen. Iron is also involved in the production of myoglobin, that transports the oxygen to the muscle. These two points illustrate the importance of iron in endurance athletes.

One of the problems of iron metabolism is its low absorption (2 to 10% of the ingested iron is actually absorbed). The major part of the body iron (70%) is in the form of heme iron (associated with red blood cells). It is better absorbed than iron of vegetable origin, called "non-heme iron". This is why meats are the best sources of iron (particularly red meats).

Needs in iron

The recommended nutritional intake is 9mg/day for men, 16mg/day for menstruating women and 15 to 20 mg/day for sports competitors.

Iron deficiency and endurance athletes

Iron is involved in the production of haemoglobin. In the event of a deficiency, haemoglobin synthesis is slowed down, leading to smaller red blood cells with reduced haemoglobin content that are less effective in transporting oxygen. It is called iron deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiencies are common in endurance athletes, most particularly in women athletes. The sport that causes the most iron deficiencies and anemias is long-distance running.

Causes of iron deficiencies:

  • The destruction of red blood cells: shocks to the vessels, shockwaves associated with running, etc.
  • Intestinal microhemmorhages due to exertion and dehydration
  • Unbalanced diet,
  • For women, menses.

Detailed information about:

Marie Fauchille
Dietician | Nutritionist
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