Iron deficiency and anaemia linked to iron deficiency are topics often discussed in running circles, especially in the case of long distance running.

While iron is a critical nutrient for everyone to ensure optimal levels of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, it’s especially those who run far and often who should keep an eye on their iron levels.

A number of studies have found that especially athletes may be prone to iron deficiency, which can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron and fitness

An iron deficiency leads to low haemoglobin, which is responsible for producing the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. It is possible to be deficient in iron without having anaemia, but anaemia can stem from this deficiency.

If you have low ferritin levels (the protein that stores your iron in your blood), but your haemoglobin count is normal, then you only have iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency anaemia affects everyone by causing symptoms such as severe exhaustion. Endurance athletes are, however, more affected, as they rely on high levels of overall fitness and stamina. When there is a shortage of haemoglobin in the blood, the athlete will struggle to perform optimally. Lower iron levels can affect aerobic training by decreasing energy and increasing muscle fatigue and cramping.

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