Iron deficiency and running

I had blood test recently and have been told that I have very low levels of ferritin and that my “haemoglobin was zip" (?). Doc said to take supplements for 3 months and go back in to check it. I read somewhere that iron depletion can be caused by running. Does anyone know if this is true? In my case there were other causes, I’m just wondering if training will make things worse/slow down the improvement. Am running the half marathon at Silverstone (very slowly no doubt) so have a lot to do!


  • I haven't personally come across "exercise-induced" anaemia. I guess one question would be why your haemoglobin was so low. I guess you're on standard ferrous sulphate tablets. If so, I'm sure there will be an improvement.

    I would have thought exercise would actually stimulate haemoglobin production, rather than reduce it, so unless there's an ongoing problem leading to your anaemia, I would have thought exercise would help. Although you might find it harder going while you're anaemic - it'd be a bit like running at high altitude.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    I read somewhere (RW?) that running can break down the red blood cells in the feet from the pounding if you are in heavy training, and that this could contibute to low haemoglobin levels. Does that make any sense, or have I picked it up wrong? I don't think the amounts were significant, so I think the iron supplements will be more than enough to cover it (if it is actually true).

    I had iron deficient anaemia a couple of years ago, and found a great improvement in a few weeks. I hadn't realised how tired and run down I had been feeling.
  • High altitude? Cool! And for free! So when the iron tablets work I'll be fitter for the experience!
    Thanks for the info. Didn't think the exercise would hurt but it's nice to know.
  • Ummm - sports anaemia can be VERY serious indeed - like FATAL if you don't do anything about it and exercise at the same time. You MUST get your iron levels back up and rechecked before you start exercising hard. Don't forget sweat also contains iron which needs replenishing.

    It is NOT like training at altitude - you need the iron in your blood to carry the oxygen in the first place to benefit from that.

    I was in a similar boat 1.5 years ago - and got the iron back up with Spatone water satchets (Boots / Holland & Barrets) as I can't tolerate any other form of iron.

    Please don't mess with this one. Look up
    and do a search on anaemia - you'll suddenly realise just how important it is that you take care.

    Don't forget that calcium supplements shouldn't be taken at the same time as iron supplements (they block absorption of iron) and orange juice with iron will help its absorption
  • "...'runner's anaemia' - a mechanically-induced destruction of the red blood cells resulting from the pounding of feet on pavement, associated with plasma volume expansion, leading to further dilution of the red cells.
    To confirm the diagnosis the patient was advised to stop running for four weeks, after which a significant rise in her red cell volume was apparent" .... "What is now known is that the apparent anaemia is caused by a combination of red blood cell breakdown and associated blood loss, complicated by expansion of the plasma volume - the fluid part of the blood.
    'Mild anaemia that is tolerated by an avid, devoted runner should raise the possibility of a diagnosis of runner's anaemia,' concludes the author" Weird!
  • Agree with SS on this one. I was suffering in the summer and had all sorts of problems even breathing when running. It was my worst summer ever for running and feeling washed out all the time. I also had supplements and spatone to bring levels back up.
  • Thanks for all the advice. Does it make a difference that I don't think mine was caused by exercise? Rang the doctor to get detail of my results so I can check them against the levels set out in one of the articles on (great site - thanks for that) and will make sure I'm ok before I run again. Today is a rest day anyway!
  • I tend to be a bit anaemic. Is a multivitamin with iron enough to keep me going then?
  • OK so I read about this last night....

    Up to 50% of women and 10% of men are slightly anaemic anyway which will obviously cause fatigue and slow you down a bit when running.

    Runners are also susceptible to 'runners anaemia' which is caused by over-exertion, losing minerals and iron in sweat when working out, and also the pounding of feet on the pavement breaks down red blood calls or something.

    Anyway the suggestion in the book I was reading, (Bob Glover,) is to take a vitamin and iron tablet and perhaps even an extra iron tablet to keep the fatigue at bay each day.

  • I am trying out Spatone at the moment, although my HB count is not that low 10.9, I have had problems with anaemia in the past, I will give it 6 weeks and get my HB tested again to see if it has made any difference, and post my results.

  • Ok finally got a copy of my blood test. Ferritin was 4.9 and it says range is 20 - 300. So I know that it's low but I don't really know what this means, what effect it has on training or anything else. I'm taking iron supplements, but don't know how long it takes for an improvement to show. I'm so tired, pissed off and depressed for the last while that I'd love to have something to blame it on!
  • Hi

    I have read this string with interest as I have suffered from anaemia for the past three years. I went to the doctors with what I thought was IBS as I was going to the loo 6 to 7 times a day, feeling very breathless when I ran, and was hitting the so called wall at about 2 miles, evan though I was running about 30 to 40 miles a week. I had the blood test and my results were similar to yours DMG. My doc called me back and put me on 2400 mg ofFerrous sulphate tablets to take twice a day. At no point did my doc tell me to stop running, in fact he encouraged me to carry on to say the problem probably occured due to my periods. Apparently it can take a long time for the iron levels to get this low. Within 1 week of taking the tablets I was flying, due to the fact that I kept training, even though I felt awful, I still had gained a lot of stamina. I went from about 11 min mile pace to about 8 min mile. I have not looked back, I have my blood checked every three months and now I am down to 200mg. Which should help maintain the iron. I know how you feel about being pissed off because I was, but know you are taking a suppliment you should start to feel the benefit. Keep you chin up.
  • Thanks a million Dumpling! I've been taking the supplements and I do feel better. Certainly have more stamina in general. Got a bit over-excited in fact and more or less doubled my milage! Oops! Think I have shin splints now (well done me) but maybe not. Just going to do some swimming this week and then try a short run at the weekend to see how I get on. Yeah I got the impression from my doctor that it takes time for the stores to get that low and time to build them up again. I had a very bad haemorrhage about 2 years ago and period issues so those were probably contribitory factors. I'll be interested to see what the results are next I get them checked!
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