The Dangers of Low Iron Levels When Working Out

The Dangers of Low Iron Levels When Working Out

Lindsay Mustard
Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer, Yoga Instructor

14 Nov 2018

The Dangers of Low Iron Levels When Working Out

We are told that regular exercise and activity is great for our health and wellbeing. But what if you were doing more harm than good? Iron deficiency anemia is a common nutritional deficiency that is primarily found in young children, adolescents, pregnant women and those with heavy and/or long menstrual cycles. Iron is an important mineral and is needed for the formation of hemoglobin molecules which play an important role in transporting oxygen molecules throughout the body.

Iron is a challenging mineral to fully absorb as only 8-10 percent of iron is absorbed from our food. Vegans and vegetarians are in an even more difficult position as they are consuming non-heme iron sources, which have the lowest iron absorption rate.

When iron levels are low, it is common for individuals to feel tired, easily fatigued, struggle to focus and experience lightheadedness. A lack of iron results in poor blood flow and oxygenation to the brain, which can explain the feelings of lightheadedness and faintness that anemic individuals experience.

Low iron levels become even more dangerous when the individual is working out or exercising on a regular basis at a moderate or intense level. Various studies have been performed and have reported significant decreases in serum iron and serum ferritin (a protein that stores and releases iron) in individuals who were following intensive training regimes. Intensive training 1 and workouts places the body in a state of oxidative stress and increases inflammation levels. This is largely due to the style of training and the purpose of the workout. Workouts are designed with a specific intention or goal in mind, such as increasing stamina, endurance and/or strength. Our bodies adapt to meet the future demands of our workouts and do so by being in a state of hypertrophy. As a result of training, iron levels are reduced and red blood cell production slows down which has the potential to lead to the development of anemia. This is important to note as inflammation in the body largely affects hepcidin levels, an iron-regulatory hormone that is responsible for maintaining healthy iron levels and controlling the absorption of irons from the foods we consume.

It is recommended that the iron intake for athletes is 1.3 to 1.7 times higher (depending on male or female) than non-athletes and is 1.8 times higher for vegetarians than meat eaters. Without 2 adequate amounts of iron, athletes will likely experience muscle cramps, dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches and poor stamina. This poses a serious challenge for individuals looking to maximize their workouts at the gym as they commonly report muscle stiffness, soreness and needing longer recovery periods when iron levels are low.

1 Kong, Wei-Na, et al. Cell & Bioscience, BioMed Central, 2014, 2 “Iron Depletion.” Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA),


Eating a combination of animal and plant-based iron sources such as red meat, eggs, molasses, legumes and grains is a great start towards increasing your iron intake. Try to consume vitamin C rich foods with your iron sources, such as making a beef stir-fry with red pepper, carrots, bok choy and onion for dinner. In addition to consuming iron rich foods, supplementing with a natural iron supplement is a surefire way to dramatically improve iron levels and reduce the side effects that one experiences when struggling with anemia.

Carbonyl iron is a fantastic supplement to increase iron stores and improve red blood cell production. Most iron supplements have an absorption rate ranging from 20-30 percent, whereas Carbonyl Iron has an absorption rate of 69 percent. This makes it the fastest acting iron supplement on the market and consumers have reported improved energy and focus in a matter of days. Carbonyl Iron is also a metallic iron compared to companies who commonly use salts - making it more absorbable without causing bloating, gastrointestinal pain and/or discomfort. Consult with your natural healthcare provider before starting supplementation.

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