The importance of iron for athletes

Posted on October 2, 2019 by

Iron is an essential nutrient for normal functioning as it assists in the transport of oxygen around the body. We need sufficient oxygen transport to allow our muscles to execute work. 

As the muscles of athletes generally have higher demands to execute work than non-athletes, this makes iron particularly important for athletes to understand.

 

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of iron

Note: Females have greater iron needs due to greater losses through the menstrual cycle.

Age group

Males (mg/day)

Females (mg/day)

1-3 years

9

9

4-8 years

10

10

9-13 years

8

8

14-18 years

11

15

19-30 years

8

18

31-50 years

8

18

51-70 years

8

8

>70 years

8

8

Source

 

The body gets iron from the food we consume. Dietary iron is found in both animal (haem iron) and plant (non-haem iron) foods. Inadequate intake of iron-rich foods can lead to iron deficiency.

Athletes are at greater risk of this due to increased iron demands from training and competition, especially endurance athletes.

Vegans and vegetarians are also at greater risk of iron deficiency due their lower/nil intake of animal-derived foods, as the iron found in animals (haem iron) is better absorbed by the body than that from plants (non-haem iron).

 

Quantities of iron in food

Animal sources (haem) Iron quantity (mg) Plant sources (non-haem) Iron quantity (mg)

Chicken liver (100g)

11

All Bran (½  cup)

4.8

Beef (100g)

3.5

Weetbix (2x biscuits)

4.2

Lamb (100g)

2.5

Kidney beans (1 cup)

3.1

Salmon (100g)

1.28

Tofu (100g)

2.96

Tinned tuna (100g)

1.07

Cashews (20x nuts)

1.5

Pork (100g)

0.8

Spinach (1 cup)

1.2

Chicken (100g)

0.4

Cooked brown rice (1 cup)

0.7

Source

 

Example day of eating for a 20-year-old female to consume ~18mg iron through diet

Breakfast: Weetbix + All Bran + milk + berries

Snack: Chobani yoghurt pot + handful cashews + banana

Lunch: Chicken stir-fry with brown rice

Snack: Tinned tuna on grainy crackers

Dinner: Shepherd’s pie (lean mince cooked with vegetables, potato on top – add kidney beans to the meat sauce for a nutrient boost)

 

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