Iron Woman (The Mineral Not The Event!!)

September 24, 2020

Iron Woman (The Mineral Not The Event!!)

Iron requirements for the female runner

Iron is important for a runner primarily for providing energy, however it has many functions in the body. Without adequate levels of iron running performance could deteriorate, recovery may be slow and the risk of injury could increase.

Iron is classed as an ESSENTIAL trace mineral because the body is unable to produce its own supply. This means requirements MUST be provided from our food. Also, iron balance in the body is regulated by absorption only, because humans don’t have an internal physiological mechanism within the body to monitor its excretion.

So, in this episode we delve into the potential causes of iron insufficiency/deficiency, the effects of iron status on running performance then highlight nutritional factors to support OPTIMAL iron status.

LISTEN HERE Episode 25: Iron Woman (the Mineral not the Event!!)


Iron requirements for the female runner


Defining iron and its importance in providing energy but also acknowledging its other functions within the body. Also explaining the differences between haemoglobin and myoglobin, both of which are key to running performance.


Describing the 3 key phases of iron depletion from iron insufficiency to iron deficiency anaemia and emphasising their effects on running performance.


Thinking about the potential causes of iron insufficiency with a focus on the physiological effects of endurance running. For example haemolysis, gastric bleeding, increased hepcidin levels. We also discuss the effects of natural “antinutrients” known to inhibit the absorption of iron.


Considering the Female Factors for iron deficiency


Looking at how iron intake and its absorption could be optimised with a focus on key iron rich foods and how to overcome the restrictions of “anti nutrients” naturally found in many plant-based foods.


Iron requirements for the female runner

The UK National Guidelines for daily iron intake suggest almost double the intake for women than men. i.e.

  • Men: 8.7mg/d
  • Women: 14.8mg/d
  • Women >50yrs of age: 8.7mg/d – same as men

The requirements for pregnant women increases significantly again to approx. 27mg/d

The increased requirements for women are clearly due to menstruation resulting in significant blood loss each month. Women with very heavy or frequent menstrual blood loss would need to be even more vigilant regarding their iron status.

The higher amounts in women during pregnancy are because of the rapid growth of the foetus requiring extra blood circulation.

The daily iron intake for women over 50 decreases to the same recommendation as for men due to the assumption that menstruation has stopped with menopause. As we know this is not the case for every woman, so any female over 50 and still menstruating should continue to follow the recommendations for younger women until menopause is confirmed.

It is worth noting that adolescent boys require 11 mg/d of iron and girls need 15mg/d.


Iron requirements for the female runner

  • Iron is a key nutrient in the transport of oxygen to tissue and in the production of energy so is crucial for a runner
  • Hemoglobin levels could be normal whilst ferritin (stored iron) levels could be greatly depleted so it is important to get both tested for a more accurate assessment.
  • There are many risk factors associated with iron insufficiency/deficiency and it is most likely to be a combination of several rather than one specific element causing diminished iron levels
  • We can potentially absorb as little as 3% of non-haem iron up to a maximum of 30% of haem iron, so a regular intake of iron is essential to maintain optimal iron status.
  • There are several nutrient inhibitors associated with iron status. Consider different ways to avoid their effects to help maintain iron status.
  • There are also nutrient enhancers for iron absorption so ensure you include these in your meal plan when eating iron rich foods.

Related Episodes:

Vitamins and Minerals for the Female Runner

Plant Based Eating for Runners


The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.

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