Methodological considerations for investigating iron status and regulation in exercise and sport science studies

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism


Human Kinetics Journals


School of Medical and Health Sciences / Institute for Nutrition Research




McKay, A. K. A., Sim, M., Moretti, D., & Hall, R. (2022). Methodological considerations for investigating iron status and regulation in exercise and sport science studies. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2021-0343


Iron deficiency is a common health issue in active and athlete populations. Accordingly, research into iron status, regulation, absorption, and iron deficiency treatment strategies is increasing at a rapid rate. However, despite the increase in the quantity of research, various methodological issues need to be addressed as we progress our knowledge in this area. The purpose of this review is to highlight specific considerations for conducting iron-related research in active and athlete populations. First, we discuss the methodological importance of assessment and interpretation of iron status, with reference to blood collection protocols, participant screening procedures, and biomarker selection. Next, we consider numerous variables that should be accounted for in the design of iron-related research studies, such as the iron regulatory hormone hepcidin and its interaction with exercise, in addition to an examination of female physiology and its impact on iron metabolism. Subsequently, we explore dietary iron and nutrient interactions that impact iron regulation and absorption, with recommendations made for optimal methodological control. Consideration is then given to key features of long-term study designs, such as the monitoring of training load, oral iron supplementation, dietary analysis, and general lifestyle factors. Finally, we conclude our recommendations with an exploration of stable iron isotope tracers as a methodology to measure iron absorption. Ultimately, it is our intention that this review can be used as a guide to improve study design, biomarker analysis, and reporting of findings, to maximize the quality of future research outputs in iron-related research focused on active and athlete populations.



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Research Themes


Priority Areas

Exercise, nutrition, lifestyle and other interventions for optimal health across the lifespan