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Iron is an essential element for life. Most of the iron in your body is found as part of two proteins called hemoglobin, found in red blood cells, and myoglobin, which is found in muscle cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and helps eliminate carbon dioxide. Myoglobin in your muscles holds and stores oxygen for use during exercise. Your working cells need a regular supply of oxygen to produce energy. Iron is primarily stored in your liver and bone marrow and a small amount in your spleen and muscle as part of two proteins called ferritin and hemosiderin. A small amount of ferritin circulates in the blood and can help estimate the amount of stored iron in your body.
Anemia is a condition in which a person has a lower than normal number of red blood cells and/or a lower amount of hemoglobin to carry oxygen, either of which decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to your cells. Causes of anemia are extensive, some of which include blood loss, iron and other vitamin deficiencies, chronic illness, and red blood cell destruction.
We recognize that athletes have an increased need for iron in order to perform at their peak capacity. We also recognize that certain athletes are at increased risk for iron deficiency including endurance athletes, vegetarian athletes, female athletes, and athletes that lose weight. Athletes in training can lose red blood cells and/or iron from loss in the gut and urine and red cell destruction.
It is also important to consider that there are many factors that can, and do affect an athlete’s performance aside from his/her number of red blood cells, amount of hemoglobin or iron stores.