Iron Supplementation in Runners: Enough Is Enough

Iron supplementation for runners is not new topic. But there are many misconceptions about it, which makes it difficult to get the facts straight. So let’s clear up some things here.

What is Iron?

Iron is a mineral found naturally in the human body, but its absorption depends on several factors such as age, gender and other health conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Iron deficiency is common among children and pregnant women. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, hair loss and muscle cramps. If left untreated it may lead to anemia (low red blood cell count) which can result in death.

The main problem with iron deficiency is that it causes a reduction in physical performance such as strength, speed and power. There have been studies showing that iron deficiency increases the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.

How Does Iron Affect My Performance?

In general, iron deficiency decreases your ability to train hard because you will need more time to recover from training sessions. When you do train harder, you’ll suffer from fatigue and lack of energy. You won’t be able to perform at your best level.

If you are elite athlete and can’t perform at your best level, that could mean not getting a contract extension or even losing your place on the team.

If you are a runner and you are passing on races, how is your competition going to know you are a tough competitor?

They are simply going to pass you by in the future races.

Getting enough iron is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to improve your athletic performance.

How Much Iron Do I Really Need?

The amount of iron needed for runners really depends on the individual and several factors such as their current health status, their diet and the type of training they do.

For most healthy people, the RDA for iron is approximately 10-18mg per day for women and 10-13mg per day for men. But that amount is based on people who have average health. If you are a runner, you will need more than the average person because runners lose more iron through sweat.

How Do I Know If I Am Deficient in Iron?

Since most of your (male and female) runners are probably in their teens or twenties, it is safe to assume that at least one of them has a mild iron deficiency. The signs and symptoms of iron deficiency are:


Pale skin

Poor sleep


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Decreased immunity

Headaches or dizziness

Cold hands and feet

What Are the Symptoms of Excess Iron?

The symptoms of excess iron are: Nausea Vomiting Diarrhea Black stool (feces)

How Much Fe Should I Be Consuming?

The recommended intake of iron for adult men and postmenopausal women is 8mg per day. It should be 10mg for premenopausal women. But that amount is based on people who have no health issues. If you are a healthy, active woman runner you will need more than the average person because runners lose more iron through sweat.

How to Get More Iron in Your Diet:

1) Consume animal sources of iron:

Beef Liver (6.4mg per 3oz)

Lamb Liver (5.2mg per 3oz)

Beef (4mg per 3oz)

Clams (2.6mg per 3oz)

Venison (2.4mg per 3oz)

Tongue (2.3mg per 3oz)

Pork (1.8mg per 3oz)

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Chicken (1.6mg per 3oz)

2) Consume plant sources of iron:

Dried beans (6.4mg per cup)

Black Eyed Peas (5.4mg per cup)

Lentils (5mg per cup)

Pumpkin seeds (2.9mg per ounce)

Hemp seeds (2.6mg per ounce)

Spinach (2.4mg per cup)

Chickpeas (2.1mg per cup)

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3) Vitamin C helps the absorption of iron:

The easiest way to improve the amount of iron your body absorbs from non-animal sources is by consuming them with foods high in vitamin C. These foods are citrus fruits and juices, kiwi fruit, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, and tomatoes.

What Are Some Iron-Rich Recipes?

Make some delicious iron rich recipes for you and your family such as:

Spicy Black-Eyed Peas and Lentils:

½ cup black-eyed peas

1 ½ cups water

1 cup lentils

1 bay leaf

1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounce)

2 tbsp chili powder

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½ tsp white pepper

What You Do:

1. Place black-eyed peas and water in a large pot over medium heat.

2. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for about 1 hour or until the peas are soft.

3. Add the lentils, bay leaf, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, and white pepper.

4. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes or until the desired thickness is reached.

Serves 4-6.

Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Corn Salad:

1 can black beans

2 cups frozen corn

1 can sweet potato puree (29 ounce)

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1 cup red onion, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

3 radishes, chopped

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

½ jalapeno, seeds removed, diced (optional)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp salt

What You Do:

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Toss until mixed.

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Serves 8-10.

Sources & references used in this article:

Iron metabolism and “sports anemia” II. A hematological comparison of elite runners and control subjects by B MAGNUSSON, L Hallberg… – Acta Medica …, 1984 – Wiley Online Library

Incidence of iron deficiency and iron deficient anemia in elite runners and triathletes by A Coates, M Mountjoy, J Burr – Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2017 –

A brief review: the implications of iron supplementation for marathon runners on health and performance by MC Zourdos, MA Sanchez-Gonzalez… – The Journal of …, 2015 –

Iron supplementation improves endurance after training in iron-depleted, nonanemic women by PS Hinton, C Giordano, T Brownlie… – Journal of Applied …, 2000 –

Four weeks of IV iron supplementation reduces perceived fatigue and mood disturbance in distance runners by A Woods, LA Garvican-Lewis, PU Saunders, G Lovell… – PloS one, 2014 –

Effects of iron supplementation in female athletes with low serum ferritin concentration by M Fogelholm, L Jaakkola… – International journal of …, 1992 –

Iron balance and iron supplementation for the female athlete: a practical approach by CR Pedlar, C Brugnara, G Bruinvels… – European journal of …, 2018 – Taylor & Francis

Iron deficiency in adolescent female dancers. by JL Durstine, RR Pate… – International …, 1987 – © Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart …

Iron supplementation prevents a decline in iron stores and enhances strength performance in elite female volleyball players during the competitive season by E Mahlamäki, S Mahlamäki – British journal of sports medicine, 1988 –