Iron status in elite young athletes: Gender-dependent influences of diet and exercise

Karsten Koehler, Hans Braun, Silvia Achtzehn, Ursula Hildebrand, Hans Georg Predel, Joachim Mester, Wilhelm Schänzer

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Iron depletion seems to occur more frequently among athletes than in the general population and may affect performance capacity. Only little information is available about the prevalence of iron status abnormalities in young elite athletes and whether iron depletion is associated with gender, sport, age or nutrition- and exercise-related factors in this group. Hence, diet, exercise and haematological data from 193 elite athletes (96 males, 97 females; 16.2 ± 2.7 years) from 24 different sports were analyzed retrospectively. Most female athletes failed to meet the recommended daily allowance for iron, even though dietary iron density was higher than in males (5.75 ± 0.78 vs. 6.17 ± 0.98 mg/1,000 kcal; P = 0.001). Iron depletion (serum ferritin < 35 μg/L) occurred in 31% of male and 57% of female athletes (P < 0.001). Low haemoglobin (males: <13 g/dL; females: <12 g/dL) and haematocrit (males: <40%; females: <36%) values were equally prevalent in both genders [haemoglobin: 7.3% (males), 6.2% (females); haematocrit: 13.5% (males); 15.5% (females)]. In females, reduced ferritin levels were associated with a lower dietary iron density (5.9 ± 0.8 vs. 6.6 ± 1.1 mg/1,000 kcal; P = 0.002). Males with iron depletion had a significantly higher estimated energy expenditure (48.7 ± 7.0 vs. 44.4 ± 7.6 kcal/kg/day; P = 0.009).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-523
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Dietary iron density
  • Exercise expenditure
  • Ferritin
  • Supplementation


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