As I’m sure you’re already aware, ferritin can be used as a measure of iron stores in the body. Ferritin is what holds the iron, allowing it to do its job through the body.
Wikipedia: “Ferritin is a universal intracellular protein that stores iron and releases it in a controlled fashion.”
What is the job of iron exactly?
To quickly summarise iron’s role in the body: Iron helps to create more red blood cells, it improves the transportation of oxygen and nutrients around the body, thus improving energy levels and recovery.
Ferritin is the measure of iron stores the body and is utilized when the body needs to make more red blood cells to transport oxygen from the lungs around the body.
How Much Ferritin Should You Have As An Athlete?
According to research, 20 nanograms per millilitre of blood (ng/mL) is a great number to shoot for, if you can get higher ferritin levels up to 70, then you may notice you’ll feel even better. (01)
To get your ferritin levels up, you will need to start incorporating more iron-rich foods into your diet.
However, you should bear in mind that ferritin levels fluctuate frequently, and may not be an ideal measurement of iron stores in the body alone.
This is where more tests may need to be carried out with your health care professional. That is of course if you are still noticing symptoms associated with low iron levels.
What Type of Foods Contain Iron?
Heme iron is the best type of iron you should try to consume if possible, or allowed on your dietary protocol. This type of iron is found in red meat, dark chicken and redfish.
Other sources of iron are nuts, raisins, and dark leafy vegetables. Just remember, that you have to eat quite a lot of these types of iron foods to reach optimal levels.
If you want to learn more about iron, and what foods contain iron: head over to my in-depth article on iron here.
How Can You Tell if Iron is Low?
If red blood cells are low, haemoglobin will also be low, which will result in tiredness, breathlessness, and in some cases hair loss.
Generally speaking, you’ll feel fatigued and run down without enough energy to complete your workout or even get out of bed in the morning.
Another thing to bear in mind is: Ferritin can easily fluctuate when ill, stressed, overworked etc – as this puts more strain on the body, quickly depleting our essential minerals which are needed for optimal health and performance.
What Can Reduce Iron Levels?
Oxidative stress, the overconsumption of caffeine, the period if you are a woman, and obviously, a diet lacking in a variety of foods containing iron. Also, another cause of iron loss is from footstrike – which causes the blood to break in the feet upon heavy impact.
In relation to this, any other type of impact on the body which is repeated on a regular basis, such as box jumps, sprinting etc, could also cause a loss of iron. These are all factors that will quickly deplete your iron stores, also known as ferritin.
Generally speaking, if your ferritin levels are low, so will your overall iron levels, but this isn’t always the case as ferreting easily fluctuates day-to-day.
However, if you feel that you are low in iron (i.e. ferritin) then it’s worth getting it checked out by your doctor. As for the amount of ferritin you should have, anywhere from 20 to 250 ng/mL for adults is a good place to start. (02)
To reduce/mitigate the amount of iron you are losing either via improving your heavy footstrike, the over-consumption of caffeine, or daily stress. Then, you will start to notice that your energy levels will improve with your performance and everyday feeling of well-being.
If you have tried all of the above, and you still haven’t noticed a difference, then try adding more iron-containing foods into your diet. Such as dark meats and dark leafy green vegetables. Then, if that still hasn’t solved the issue, supplementation may be in order.
Don’t forget you can contact me or ask me any questions below on ferritin, supplementation, or any other sports nutrition question, I’ll get back to you right away.
(01) medicinenet.com ferritin blood test. (source)
(02) Rocester University ferritin in the blood. (source)