Objective: To assess the incidence of iron deficiency (ID), and iron deficient anemia (IDA) within a cohort of highly trained runners and triathletes, and to examine the association of oral iron supplementation history with serum ferritin (sFe) and hemoglobin (Hb) concentrations.
Methods: A retrospective analysis of routine blood test data taken from 2009 to 2015 from (n = 38) elite level runners and triathletes between the ages of 21 to 36 years. Oral iron supplement intake was assessed through a questionnaire.
Results: Triathletes (female, FT; male, MT) and runners (female, FR; male, MR) had higher incidence of at least 1 episode of ID (FT 60.0%, MT 37.5%, FR 55.6%, MR 31.3%) compared with values reported in the literature for endurance athletes (20%-50% females, 0%-17% males). Male triathletes and runners had a higher incidence of IDA than their female teammates (25% MT, 20% FT, 6.3% for MR, 0% FR), a finding which has previously not been reported. Hemoglobin concentrations were low, with incidence of Hb <140 g/L in men occurring at least once in 87.5% of triathletes, and 31.3% of runners, and Hb <120 g/L in women occurring at least once in 20% of triathletes, but 0% of runners. Although the athletes were appropriately treated with oral iron (mean 94 ± 115 mg/d), there was no observed correlation between iron intake and sFe or Hb.
Conclusions: Even with monitoring and treatment in place, ID and IDA are significant concerns for the health and performance of elite runners and triathletes, and this issue affects males and females.