Iron and vitamin D are two common athlete nutrient deficiencies that can have a big impact on athletic performance and overall health. But treating them with food or supplements isn’t the only answer—finding out the reason for the deficiency is just as important.
Laura Lewis, PhD, Director of Science at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, explains that before an athlete considers supplementing with a pill or liquid form of iron or vitamin D, it’s important to consult a doctor and get bloodwork to confirm a deficiency exists. “It's really important not to just self-manage and assume you’re nutrient deficient,” says Lewis. “You always want to get your levels assessed, and it's really important to find out the reason for the deficiency. You want to fix the cause of that deficiency as well as resolve the immediate need for the nutrient.”
Here, Lewis explains the signs and symptoms of these common nutrient deficiencies, as well as how they can be treated.
Signs and impacts of deficiency
“When you’re low on iron, you may get quite pale and look washed out,” says Lewis. “You may also be very tired, irritable, unable to concentrate on schoolwork, or even struggling to get out of bed.”
“In terms of trying to do any sporting activity, an athlete may really struggle,” says Lewis. “Sometimes, your legs feel like jelly, particularly after a hard effort. You just don't feel you have the ability to recover between those efforts. You’ll be constantly out of breath. You might also have a massive decline in a task that was easy at one point, so that now it's become super hard.”