Iron, zinc and magnesium nutrition and athletic performance

R. McDonald, Carl L Keen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


During the last decade there has been considerable interest in the idea that dietary trace element supplementation can result in an improvement in athletic performance. The current paper discusses this idea as it relates to 3 elements: iron, zinc and magnesium. Emphasis has been placed on examining the implicit assumptions underlying the idea that mineral supplements help the athlete. These assumptions include the beliefs that the athlete has a higher than normal requirement for minerals; that the athlete consumes a diet inadequate in these minerals; and that a marginal deficiency of these elements has a direct effect on athletic performance. Evidence is presented that both iron deficiency and magnesium deficiency can result in a significant reduction in exercise performance; however, the biochemical lesions underlying the reductions in exercise performance have not been identified. There is evidence that dietary magnesium intake may be suboptimal in some individuals, thus dietary supplementation of this element may be useful in some population groups. Excessive magnesium supplementation is not thought to be a serious health problem. Similar to magnesium, dietary iron supplements can improve athletic performance in individuals severely deficient in this element. However, few studies have documented a need for iron supplements in healthy athletes. If iron supplements are used, it is important that the level of supplementation is not excessive, as excess iron in the diet can result in an induced zinc deficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-184
Number of pages14
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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