Incidence of Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficient Anemia in Elite Runners and Triathletes

Clin J Sport Med. 2017 Sep;27(5):493-498. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000390.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Athletes
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron / deficiency*
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Running*
  • Young Adult


  • Iron