Sports Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which the level of hemoglobin in the blood is below normal. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to the tissues in the body. When the level of hemoglobin decreases, the body tissues are starved of oxygen. There are a variety of causes for anemia, including:

  • Poor nutrition ( vitamin B12 deficiency).

  • Genetic conditions (sickle cell disease).

  • Athletic induced anemia.

Sports anemia is caused by an increase in blood volume, without an increase in hemoglobin production. This causes a decrease in hemoglobin.


  • Usually, there are no symptoms.

  • Slight decrease in hemoglobin on blood tests (less than 11.5 g/dL in females and less than 13 g/dL in males).

  • Normal blood tests if training is stopped for 3 to 5 days.

  • Changes in hemoglobin depend on training intensity.

  • No changes in other blood tests (mean corpuscular volume [MCV], ferritin, haptoglobin).


Sports anemia is caused by an increase in blood volume. It is most common in endurance athletes. The cause is unknown.


Increased training intensity and volume.


Sports anemia is not known to cause problems. Some people believe it is an adaptation to training. However, others believe it is a condition that decreases sports performance because it decreases oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.


No complications of sports anemia are known.


Sports anemia is usually not treated. If treatment is done, then athletes may be asked to:

  • Refrain from training for 3 to 5 days.

  • Have blood tests repeated to produce normal results.


No medicines are indicated. Some athletes will resort to drugs to increase hemoglobin concentration. These athletes risk significant side effects.


There are no activity restrictions for sports anemia.


No diet change is necessary for sports anemia


  • There is any change in performance after this diagnosis is made.

  • There is suspicion of blood doping or use of erythropoietin.

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, or difficulty breathing.