Do plant based female endurance athletes supplement?

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  • #40957

    I am currently recovering from an iron deficiency (ferritin was 22, now 32), likely due to simultaneously reducing my consumption of animal products and increasing my training load this past winter. At the moment I am supplementing with liquid iron, consuming plant based iron with vitamin C in every meal, and eating red meat about every other day in order to build iron stores as quickly as possible.

    I’m pondering whether I can cut out animal products again once my ferritin levels get to a healthy range? I prefer to not eat meat or animal products, but not at the cost of iron deficiency. I’m wondering how female vegan athletes do it? I imagine they are very cognizant of getting plant based iron in every meal, but do they also supplement? I haven’t been able to find much good, specific information about this online, so any examples would be valuable to me. Thanks!

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    Anonymous on #40986

    I don’t have the experience to say, but be careful that you don’t overcompensate the other way. Too much iron has negative effects as well, I believe. Has a doctor or nutritionist recommended your supplementation routine?

    Diana on #40995

    Yes, this is also something I’ve been concerned about. I am following the directions on my liquid iron supplement, but I do not have a primary care physician or nutritionist to make recommendations. I did extensive online research and found the dose I’m taking to be within those guidelines, and I am not experiencing any of the symptoms of overdose.

    Thomas Summer, MD on #41005

    Hi Diana!

    Why did you test for iron deficiency? Symptoms? Any other tests or deficiencies? How much iron are you taking at the moment?
    As a vegan, it’s very difficult to get enough of certain nutrients. Not only iron. And especially if you are an athlete that can lead to many deficiencies and problems.
    I would recommend getting a professional consultation.


    Rebecca Dent on #41018

    Hi Diana,

    I’m the uphill athlete dietitian. As Thomas and Scott have both mentioned care needs to be taken when supplementing with iron. The length of time to supplement depends on your ferritin level when you commenced supplementation of iron and the daily dose of iron you are taking. If ferritin levels were less than 12 then it can take around 3-6months to bring ferritin levels/iron stores back up to within an ideal normal range >20 but for any athlete especially a female following a vegan diet ferritin levels of 50 or above would be good to maintain. As yours were around 22 but now 32, how long did this take for your iron levels to increase whilst on a supplement? And what is your daily supplement dose of liquid iron? Initially when iron deficient your body is more efficient at absorbing iron.

    It can be possible to maintain iron levels on a vegan diet, but you do have to be quite meticulous about this. A vegan diet is high in fibre and you are obtaining iron from non-heam sources (plant based sources) both make it harder for your body to absorb iron as opposed to heam iron (animal sources) such as red meat that your body can absorb readily and much easier. If you would like to follow a more vegan / plant based diet then I would recommend a daily (lower dose) iron supplement. Those who follow a vegan diet need to consume 1.8 times the recommended daily intake that is set per country, so instead of 14mg or iron for females (UK RDA’s) this would then equate to 25mg of iron per day if consuming iron from plant based sources. It sounds like you have been doing all of the right things to boost your iron stores back up and also you have a very sensible approach to your nutrition.

    If you’d like to have a 30min phone consult with me to chat through your dietary preferences and making sure your iron levels are sustained then you can book in by simply following the link

    I hope that has been helpful.


    Diana on #41032


    I was feeling unnaturally fatigued while skiing and knew about iron deficiency in female athletes. I got an iron and ferritin test, and I am taking 15mg of liquid Ferrous Bisglycinate Chelate daily in 2 doses.

    Unfortunately I’m not in a place financially or with my healthcare to get a professional consultation at this time, so I sincerely appreciate your insight.

    Diana on #41035


    Thank you for your detailed response. It took exactly 1 month to increase my ferritin from 22-32. My daily dose is 15mg of liquid Ferrous Bisglycinate Chelate daily in 2 doses, am and pm.

    I really appreciate the information/recommedations you’ve provided. It’s helpful in understanding the mechanisms, so that I can make more informed decisions. I think I will soon get off the red meat and increase my supplement to 25mg, continuing to get a ferritin test monthly to see how it goes. Thanks again for your expertise!

    Deena on #41615

    Hi there!

    I’m 33, I’ve been vegetarian since I was 14, and I have been vegan from 2012-2018 and then again for the last year or so. From 2012 to around 2017, I also regularly gave blood in addition to training several times a week (max training week volume would be 15 hours). My mum is a retired haematologist and a huge carnivore, so I liked giving blood to prove the point that I could be vegan and still have sufficient iron. I have and do supplement from time to time, but I focus mainly on eating an awesome diet that is varied and unprocessed and allows me to get all my nutrients from natural sources. For example, there is a ton of iron available in spirulina and hemp protein.

    You can check out this website for more well-researched information.

    I’m sure you know this, but timing is also important as foods/nutrients interact in different ways and can inhibit/reduce the absorption of iron from the gut.

    I realise that each individual is different, so what works for me may not work for you… but I wanted to post to say that there is at least n = 1 to show that it is possible to be vegan and have lots of iron in your body 🙂

    Good luck!

    Diana on #41620

    Thanks for your input Deena! n=1 is still good information for me– I have read that people do it, but I am curious about specifics and how individuals make it work.

    I now practice food combining for absorption and avoid coffee/tea/dairy during meals which inhibit absorption. I imagine this will make a difference because I’m a big coffee and tea drinker, especially in the winter, and I’m certain that was contributing to my declining levels!

    I will look into spirulina and continue to “supplement” with hemp seeds, molasses, tahini, etc. Thanks again and rock on!

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