Eating Iron to Lift Iron
Jane McClements

You've probably heard of it, and also heard of where it's found - people often say Guinness is a good source! However, it only contains 0.3mg of Iron, just 3% of the recommended intake meaning you'd need 29 pints to hit the daily intake, which might just about outweigh the positives.

Iron is a mineral found in proteins called haemoglobin located in red blood cells within the bloodstream. Iron is required for oxygen transportation, VO2 max, energy production, assist in the body’s natural defence system and improve menstrual regularity.

Maintaining a positive iron balance is essential to avoid the effects of iron deficiency and anaemia and to maintain or improve performance. Although Iron deficiency can occur in males it is most prevalent in menstruating females.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency include:

  • Reduced performance

  • Increased levels of tiredness

  • Increase risk of infections

  • Shortness of breath

  • Impact on cognitive task performance

  • Hair loss

  • Brittle nails

Iron requirements vary from person to person depending on various factors however those at greatest risk are individuals:

  • With a low energy intake,

  • Following vegetarian/ vegan diets,

  • Athletes, particularly endurance

  • Menstruating or pregnant females

Iron can be lost in various ways including :

  • Inflammatory responses from exercise

  • Mensuration

  • Sweat

  • Urine

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

  • Muscle contraction e.g. eccentric muscle damage during exercise

  • Red cell destruction through increased pounding of feet on ground during exercise e.g. foot strike.

As Iron is lost in various ways it is important athletes aim to maximise their dietary iron consumption to prevent iron deficiency.

How is iron deficiency diagnosed?

It is diagnosed through blood tests, therefore if a deficiency is suspected speak to your Doctor. Replenishing iron levels through dietary is the recommended method. It is NEVER advised to take iron supplementation on a self-diagnosis of iron deficiency.

Where do we get iron from?

Iron comes from our diet and is classified into 2 categories; haem iron (absorbed easier by the body) and non-haem iron (less easily absorbed).

  • Haem iron is found in animal sources e.g. Red meat (richest source), pork, fish, poultry, eggs.

  • Non-haem iron is found in plant sources e.g. Beans, pulses, tofu, figs, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C assists with the absorption of non-haem iron in the digestive tract. Therefore, eating these foods together (Vitamin C with non-haem iron foods) increases the amount of iron absorbed in the body helping minimise the risk of an iron deficiency.

Top tips:

  • If possible try to incorporate an animal (haem) source at meal times.

  • Eat Vitamin C and non-heam sources together e.g. squeezing lemon on dark green leafy vegetables, or orange juice with breakfast.

  • Try incorporating iron fortified foods such as breakfast cereals in the morning or as a snack between training sessions.

  • Avoid tea/coffee at meal times (try to wait at least 30 minutes after meals).

  • Try a handful of dried fruit/ nuts as snack between meals or incorporate into meals e.g. Porridge/ breakfast cereals/curries.

  • If concerned regarding iron deficiency speak to your GP.

If you'd enjoyed this article, would like to know more about iron, and how to incorporate it into your diet more effectively, contact us at for more information.


Alaunyte, I., Stojceska, V. and Plunkett, A. (2015). Iron and the female athlete: a review of dietary treatment methods for improving iron status and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of sports-nutrition.

Bauer, P., Zeissler, S., Walscheid, R., Frech, T. and Hillebrecht, A. (2018). Acute effects of high-intensity exercise on haematological and iron metabolic parameters in elite male and female dragon boating athletes. The Physician and Sports medicine, 46(3), pp.335-341.

Denis, R. and Conway, J. (2019). Iron deficiency and aerobic endurance performance in a female club runner. Science & Sports, 34(1), pp.45-51.

Dziembowska, I., Kwapisz, J., Izdebski, P. and Żekanowska, E. (2019). Mild iron deficiency may affect female endurance and behaviour. Physiology & Behaviour, 205, pp.44-50.

Gill, S. (2017). Food Facts-Iron. [Page//online] Available at:

Pedlar, C.R, Brugnara, C., Bruinvels, G. and Burden, R. (2018) Iron balance and iron supplementation for the female athlete: A practical approach, European Journal of Sport Science. 18:(2),pp255-305

Sim, M., Garvican-Lewis, L., Cox, G., Govus, A., McKay, A., Stellingwerff, T. and Peeling, P. (2019). Iron considerations for the athlete: a narrative review. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 119(7), pp.1463-1478.

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Jane McClements
Henry is the founder of Integrate Sports. He is a UKSCA accredited practitioner with over 10 years’ experience working with high performing athletes. He has worked with Olympic medallists and prepared athletes for Tokyo 2020 in his role with the English Institute of Sport. Henry is a Lecturer in Strength and Conditioning at Hartpury University, and the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Hockey Wales.
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