Iron for athletes: why, how much and where from?

You've heard it 10000x - you need iron to run well. But do you actually know why? Or how much iron? Or where to get it, especially if you don't eat red meat?

Iron deficiency anaemia is the world's most common nutritional deficiency disease. It's of particular importance to female runners for it's role in energy production.

Role of iron in the body

What is iron?

There are 2 major pools or iron in the body: (1) functional iron in proteins include haemoglobin, myoglobin, cytochromes and enzymes; (2) storage iron in ferritin, hemosiderin, and transferrin (you'll see these names if you ever get a blood test to check your iron levels).

What is the role of these proteins in the body?

Functionally, iron allows these proteins to bind to oxygen. Oxygen is key in aerobic energy production eg any low intensity movement.

Both haemoglobin and myoglobin transport or store oxygen. Haemoglobin is a blood protein and transports oxygen around your body. Myoglobin are proteins located within your muscle. These proteins store oxygen in your muscles as a reservoir for when your blood oxygen levels are low eg exercise.

As your body is in need of energy, it calls upon cytochromes and iro-dependent enzymes to catalyse a series of chemical reactions that converts chemical energy from the oxygen molecules to ATP energy.