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Athletes: Getting Iron from Food

Content by: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Iron is an important mineral for the athlete. It helps support the transport of oxygen from your lungs to muscles throughout the body. Learn more...

Athletes: Getting Iron from Food


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Iron is a mineral that helps transport oxygen from your lungs to your exercising muscles. If you eat an iron-poor diet, you can easily become anemic and feel unusually fatigued during exercise.

• Many athletes consume less than the recommended iron intake: 8 milligrams (mg) for males, 18 mg for females.

• Red meat is among the best food sources of iron. Athletes who do not eat red meat need to find alternative sources of iron.

• Look for iron-enriched or fortified on the food labels of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Those foods have iron added to them.

• At meals, eat fruit and/or vegetables rich in Vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. Fruits rich in vitamin C include berries, oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe and watermelon. Vitamin C-rich vegetables include broccoli, spinach, peppers, tomato and potato.

• A multi-vitamin-mineral supplement with iron may be recommended, if you do not eat lean red meats or iron-enriched breakfast cereal.

• Serious athletes routinely get blood tests for hemoglobin, hematocrit and ferritin to monitor iron status and prevent anemia before performance drops.

Quick Tips!
Female athletes require more iron, because they lose it through menstrual bleeding.

Next Steps:
Consider a blood test to check hemoglobin, hematocrit and ferritin levels.

NOTE: It is possible to take too much iron. Seek the advice of a medical professional before taking a supplement.

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