A Consultant Nutritionist, Prof. Matilda Steiner-Asiedu, says female athletes from West African sub-region do not perform optimally to win medals at international sports events due to iron deficiency.
Mrs Steiner-Asiedu, who works at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Ghana, made the disclosure in a telephone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Tuesday.
She said that female athletes were at higher risk for iron deficiency, compared to male athletes, due to monthly blood loss associated with menstruation and regular exercise.
“Iron deficiency occurs when you lack sufficient red blood cells to move oxygen throughout your body and it has an impact on your organs and bodily functions or performance,” she explained.
Mr Steiner-Asiedu said there was the need for periodic health evaluation of female athletes with special attention to routine screening for iron deficiency.
“Female athletes are at risk for iron deficiency because iron is lost through heavy sweating and menstruation.
These athletes carry out regular exercise and sweat heavily, which increases iron losses by as much as 70 per cent.
“Athletes may also be at risk for iron deficiency due to insufficient dietary iron intake.
“Athletes, particularly menstruating female ones, need to be extremely mindful of iron intake in order to meet their bodies’ demands.
“Iron is necessary for oxygen transport and energy metabolism, both of which are critical for fuelling aerobic exercise.
“Athletes can experience a decline in exercise capacity or feel easily tired with iron deficiency,” she said.
The consultant nutritionist noted that athletes with iron deficiency anaemia might experience symptoms such as weakness, general fatigue or exhaustion, decreased exercise performance, increased heart rate and shortness of breath during exercise, headaches and dizziness.
She said there was a need for athletes to consult with a sports dietitian to help them with iron deficiency.
“We concentrate more on enrolling these athletes into international sports events but we do not consider and work on their nutrition to help them keep fit and energetic to perform well and win more medals.
“A sports dietitian can perform a thorough dietary review and make recommendations for ways to increase their iron intake to help oxygen circulate in the body and get enough energy for sports.”