Female Athletes

Female Athletes and Iron


Female Athletes At Risk

Even healthy athletes can be anemic, simply because a healthy body doesn’t absorb iron easily.  In fact, more than half of all female endurance athletes have depleted iron stores.7  Since 75% of women aged 18 to 44 don’t eat enough iron-rich foods, depletion of iron stores seems unavoidable.6 This, plus regular aerobic exercise, results in further depletion of body iron stores.8 

Iron Status and Athletic Performance

Poor iron status undermines athletic performance.1 Iron depletion weakens athletes and impedes sports performance, because oxygen isn’t transported effectively to working muscles, resulting in a build-up of lactic acid. Iron supplementation improves aerobic adaptation, muscle fatigue resistance, and enhances physiological adaptation to endurance training, which all contribute to improved endurance capacity.2,3,8,12


Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include:

* Fatigue
* Headache
* Shortness of breath
* Nausea
* Pale, washed-out appearance
* Rapid heart beat
* Cold hands and/or feet
* Brittle hair and nails
* Restless legs


Healthy Iron Levels

Female athletes need healthy iron levels if they expect to perform at optimal levels. That’s why it is important for female athletes to monitor their iron status. Individual iron status can be monitored by checking various biochemical measures, as well as looking at the diet. Female athletes should have their iron levels checked once a year, especially if they feel tired with training or lethargic. Endurance athletes should have their levels checked every 6 months. Consider checking iron levels 2-3 months out from the major meets or events, to make sure your performances will be the best you can be.6


When diet alone doesn’t provide enough iron, choose an iron supplement which provides the highly absorbable Heme Iron, while avoiding the inconvenient side effects so common with non-heme iron supplements.  Proferrin® brand products are the only 100% Heme Iron supplement made in the U.S.A.


Research Studies

Here are a few research studies detailing the importance of iron supplementation for female athletes:



Iron Supplementation Improves Progressive Fatigue Resistance During Dynamic Knee Extensor Exercise in Iron-depleted, Nonanemic Women

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003 Feb;77(2):441-8


“Supplementation was associated with a significant improvement in muscle fatigue resistance, as measured by a novel protocol that induces fatigue via highly aerobic dynamic knee extensions performed over ≈ 8 min.”



Effect of Iron Supplementation on Endurance Capacity in Iron-Depleted Female Runners (Abstract)

 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1992 Jul;24(7):819-24.

“The results of this study suggest that 8 wk of oral iron supplementation improves iron status in iron-depleted female distance runners, but does not enhance endurance capacity.”


Iron Supplementation Improves Endurance after Training in Iron-depleted, Nonanemic Women

 Journal of Applied Physiology (1985). 2000 Mar;88(3):1103-11.


“In conclusion, we have demonstrated that iron supplementation enhances favorable physiological adaptation to endurance training and thus increases endurance capacity in iron-depleted, nonanemic women.  Furthermore, associations between improved Hb, SFer, and sTfR status and physical performance during prolonged submaximal exercise suggest that tissue iron stores and, to a lesser extent, O2-carrying capacity mediate the adaptation to aerobic training.  These results are relevant for exercising young women whose dietary patterns and physical activity levels increase their risk of iron deficiency and suggest that repletion of iron store may maximize the benefits of aerobic training.”


Effects of Iron Repletion on VO2Max, Endurance, and Blood Lactate in Women (Abstract)

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1993 Dec;25(12):1386-92.

“The results suggest that this level of iron supplementation can reverse mild anemia, increase VO2max, and reduce blood lactate concentration after submaximal exercise.”


 Marginal Iron Deficiency Without Anemia Impairs Aerobic Adaptation Among Previously Untrained Women

 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002 Apr;75(4):734-42.


“Our findings strongly suggest that iron deficiency without anemia but with elevated sTfR status impairs aerobic adaptation among previously untrained women and that this can be corrected with iron supplementation.”



The Effects of Physical Exercise on Soluble Transferrin Receptor and other Indicators of Iron Status in Female Taekwondoist

International Journal of Sports Science and Engineering Vol. 01 (2007) No. 03, pp. 189-194


“Therefore, we can conclude that changes in variable of iron status mainly attribute to exercise induced changes and if iron deficiency do not compensate, athletes may experience anemia.”








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