Koehler, K., Braun, H., Achtzehn, S., Predel, H. G., Mester, J., & Schaenzer, W. (2009). Iron status in young elite athletes: Influence of diet, exercise, and gender. A paper presented at the 14th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science, Oslo, Norway, June 24-27.

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"Despite widespread research and education, iron still has to be considered as one of the most critical nutrients in public health as well as in exercise nutrition. The prevalence of iron depletion among athletes tends to be higher than in the general population. Additionally, there is sufficient evidence that suboptimal iron status may influence exercise capacity and/or sport performance."

This study identified the influences of gender, diet, and exercise on iron status across a wide range of sports and levels of competition in junior elite athletes (M = 77; F = 100). Ss from 32 different sports were analyzed retrospectively. Diet and exercise data were collected during seven days using a standardized and validated record. Following the recording period, fasting blood samples were obtained.

Among all Ss, approximately 40% had reduced serum ferritin levels, while approximately 4% were anemic. Female athletes had significantly more abnormal hematological values and consumed significantly less dietary iron, cobalamin, and folic acid. Athletes with low ferritin levels indicative of iron depletion consumed significantly less meat and fish than athletes with regular levels. Female athletes with iron depletion had a significantly lower iron density in their diet, but that was not evident in male athletes. Only in male athletes were ferritin levels significantly affected by practice duration and energy expenditure.

Implication. Low ferritin levels indicating iron depletion is common among young elite athletes. The interrelations between an athlete’s iron status and his/her diet and exercise regimen is related to the athlete’s gender: In female athletes, iron depletion was more prevalent and serum ferritin levels were primarily associated with dietary iron density; in male athletes, energy expenditure and practice duration seemed to influence iron status strongly.

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