Nutrition: The Danger of an Iron Deficiency


Red Blood CellsBy Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant

Serum Ferritin is considered to be the best indicator of an athlete’s iron status and essential in the creation of new red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen throughout the body and helping to remove carbon dioxide, both crucial functions during training. An iron deficiency could inhibit the body’s ability to create new red blood cells, remove muscle waste products and obviously have a negative effect on an athlete’s general health, let alone their ability to practice.


The RDA for Iron varies by age and gender. It is recommended males and females 9-13 years old include 8 mg of iron per day in their diet; males 14-18 years old 11 mg/day; females 14-18 years old 15 mg/day; males over 18 8 mg/day; and females over 18 18 mg/day. The World Health Organization believes iron deficiency is the No. 1 nutritional disorder in the world. Additionally, females and those with diets including excessive intake of low nutrient dense foods (snack foods, soda and desserts) can have an increased risk of suffering from an iron deficiency.


Dietary iron is available in animal, plant and iron-fortified foods. Most healthy diets contain a variety of sources of iron like lean beef (3.2 mg per 3 oz. serving), boiled spinach (3.2 mg per ½ cup serving), and fortified instant oatmeal (10 mg per 1 cup serving). For more information on dietary sources of iron and iron deficiency please visit the National Institute of Health’s Fact Sheet on iron.

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