Folate for Athletes: many athletes are too low

Published by Ańna on

folate for athletes
High vitamin folate (B9) foods for athletes

Folate for athletes

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin (B9) that plays an important role in making DNA. It plays an important role in red blood cell production and tissue repair.  Folate is especially important for athletes, who have a high red blood cell turnover rate due to the stresses of training.

Many athletes believe that their fatigue is due to an iron deficiency.  It could be, but folate deficiencies also can lead to anemia and fatigue. 

A true folate deficiency is rare in United States because folate deficiency ( under 3) can cause birth defects, many of the common foods we eat are fortified with folic acid. However, suboptimal folate levels in our athletes is very common. In fact, 9% of athlete we’ve tested have folate under 10, which is associated with symptoms in athletes. And even more compelling, is 43% of athletes we test have folate under 16, which places them at higher risk of falling below levels of 10 and possibly developing training-associated symptoms. 

Folate from food for athletes

We highly recommend getting your folate from food sources. Nutritional sources of folate include spinach, romaine lettuce, chard, broccoli, lentils, red beets, legumes, oranges, avocado, and many others. The NIH provided this handy chart for foods with high folate.

Supplementing to increase athlete folate levels?

Make sure you look at what your supplement contains.  

Many supplements use folic acid because it is highly stable and easily absorbed.  The catch?  Once your body absorbs folic acid,  several key enzymes need to convert it into 6S-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF) before your body can use it.  A genetic variation in up to ⅓ of men and women can impact the last step of this conversion.  Athletes with this genetic variation don’t reap the benefit of a folic acid supplement. In our experience, athletes (even those without the genetic variation) who take folic acid supplements to increase folate generally end up disappointed in the results. 

So what’s an athlete who is low in folate to do?

Athletes can get genetic testing with Athlete Blood Test. 

Or you can continue to focus on nutrition and take methyl-folate instead of folic acid just to be safe.  Methylfolate doesn’t need to go through any enzyme conversion to be used by the body.  It is the most active form of folate in the body, is well absorbed, and can effectively raise folate levels in your blood. 

Many athletes can get enough folate by increasing dietary intake. If an athlete needs to supplement we recommend Methyl-Folate ( 5-MTHF).

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About Dr. A’nna

Dr. A'nna Roby

Dr. A’nna strives to inspire people to optimally fuel their bodies to achieve their best. She hopes to have a positive impact on the world. The only combined Ph.D./RD specializing in sports performance nutrition in the world with all Ivy League degrees and the Chief Research Officer at AthleteBloodTest.

Dr. A’nna aims to cultivate a world of healthy athletes who understand nutrition and know how to leverage their physiology to get the best results in sports and life. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Instagram @drannaroby.

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