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Iron regulation and absorption in athletes: contemporary thinking and recommendations.

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: This review examines recent developments in our understanding of iron regulation/absorption around exercise, with specific attention paid towards the female athlete.

RECENT FINDINGS: Building on the well accepted knowledge that hepcidin concentrations increase in the 3-6 h period following an acute bout of exercise, recent studies have shown that this links to a reduced fractional iron absorption from the gut during feedings provided 2 h postexercise. Further, a window of enhanced iron absorption has recently been identified to occur 30 min either side of exercise commencement/completion, which allows for strategic iron intake to optimize absorption around exercise. Finally, there is burgeoning evidence to show that iron status and iron regulation change throughout the menstrual cycle and with hormonal contraceptive use, which could have implications for iron status in female athletes.

SUMMARY: Exercise can affect iron regulatory hormone activity, which subsequently impairs iron absorption, potentially contributing to the high rates of iron deficiency seen in athletes. Future research should continue to examine strategies to optimize iron absorption, with consideration to the timing, mode and intensity of exercise, the time of day, and in females, the menstrual cycle/menstrual status.

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