How Iron Boosts Exercise Performance in Women

It may be worthwhile screening women, including women training as elite athletes, for iron deficiency.

Walk into any supplement or health food store, and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the multitude of supplements available. There are literally dozens of different brands, types, and flavors of protein powder, and much more pre-workout, post-workout, BCAA, fat burning, weight loss, and sleep-boosting supplements. You may have no idea which are effective and which are just a waste of your money.

Here’s a supplement that has been proven to work: iron. Research from the University of Melbourne has proven that iron is an important addition to your workout supplement regimen. Back in 2014, Australian researchers did a systematic analysis and review of iron supplementation specifically on women of child-bearing years. Their research led to a fascinating conclusion: iron can help you to perform at a higher efficiency and a lower heart rate.

Women who were iron-deficient or anemic at the onset of the study showed the most visible results, but all the women taking iron supplements saw marked improvement in their physical performance. Thanks to the iron, the women were actually able to reach maximal capacity (100% exertion). Not only that, but they also saw an improvement in exercise efficiency even at submaximal levels. Simply put, they were able to push harder, reach deeper, and go longer—in their exercise, of course.

Why is iron such an important supplement for exercise performance? It all comes down to the fact that iron plays a role in the formation of new red blood cells. Those red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen and nutrients through the bloodstream, as well as removing lactic acid from the muscles. Thanks to the increase in oxygen and nutrients resulting from increasing iron intake, you can improve your performance on the field, in the gym, or on the track.

If you’re not feeling it at the gym or in your workouts, it may be time to examine your iron intake. According to this study, iron deficiency can noticeably impair your workout performance. It can lead to fatigue and lethargy, not to mention increasing your risk of iron-deficiency anemia.

It may be worthwhile screening women, including women training as elite athletes, for iron deficiency, and ensuring they receive appropriate prevention and treatment strategies. Athletes, especially females, are at increased risk of iron deficiency potentially, due to their diets and inflammation caused by excessive exercise,” said lead researcher, Dr. Sant-Rayn Pasricha from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.


1. S.-R. Pasricha, M. Low, J. Thompson, A. Farrell, L.-M. De-Regil. “Iron Supplementation Benefits Physical Performance in Women of Reproductive Age: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Nutrition, 2014; DOI: 10.3945/jn.113.189589.

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