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Hepcidin, a peptide hormone with an acknowledged evolutionary function in iron homeostasis, was discovered at the turn of the 21st century. Since then, the implications of increased hepcidin activity have been investigated as a potential advocate for the increased risk of iron deficiency in various health settings. Such implications are particularly relevant in the sporting community where peaks in hepcidin postexercise (∼3–6 hr) are suggested to reduce iron absorption and recycling, and contribute to the development of exercise-induced iron deficiency in athletes. Over the last decade, hepcidin research in sport has focused on acute and chronic hepcidin activity following single and repeated training blocks. This research has led to investigations examining possible methods to attenuate postexercise hepcidin expression through dietary interventions. The majority of macronutrient dietary interventions have focused on manipulating the carbohydrate content of the diet in an attempt to determine the health of athletes adopting the low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diets, a practice that is a growing trend among endurance athletes. During the process of these macronutrient dietary intervention studies, an observable coincidence of increased cumulative hepcidin activity to low energy availability has emerged. Therefore, this review aims to summarize the existing literature on nutritional interventions on hepcidin activity, thus, highlighting the link of hepcidin to energy availability, while also making a case for the use of hepcidin as an individualized biomarker for low energy availability in males and females.
Badenhorst and O’Brien are with the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, College of Health, Massey University, North Shore City, Auckland, New Zealand. Black is with the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.