The objective of this study was to determine the impact of iron depletion without anemia on performance in a sample of female collegiate rowers at the beginning of a training season (August 2008, January 2009, and September 2009). One hundred sixty-five female collegiate rowers from 5 colleges and universities in central New York State participated in a screening of iron status. Blood hemoglobin (Hgb), serum ferritin (sFer), and soluble transferrin receptor were measured to determine prevalence of iron depletion and anemia. Rowers’ habitual moderate and vigorous physical activity, as well as their best time to complete a 2-km simulated race during the previous 3 months, were self-reported. Sixteen rowers (10%) were identified as anemic (Hgb <12.0 g/dl). Using a sFer cutoff of <20.0 μg/L, 30% (n = 44) of the nonanemic rowers were identified as iron depleted without anemia and reported 2-km times ~21 s slower (p < .004) than rowers with normal iron status. Given the high prevalence of iron depletion reported in this and other studies, screening for low iron stores at the start of a training program in female athletes involved in an endurance sport may be clinically useful. In this study, irondepleted rowers (sFer <20–25 μg/L) reported a decrease in performance time compared with those with normal iron stores.
The authors are with the Div. of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.