Iron is an extremely important mineral for athletes. If athletes do not get enough iron, it can negatively affect their performance more and more each day. Iron plays a huge role in immune systems functions throughout the body. It also transports oxygen to all the cells on your body and produces red blood cells. Sadly, athletes have the largest percentage of iron deficiency anemia.
The major symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are fatigue and decreased athletic performance. It is more prevalent in female athletes but does appear in male athletes from time to time.
Athletes need about 1.5 times more iron than someone who is sedentary or not active. Some common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are muscle burning, nausea, frequent infections and having a constant pale appearance.
Iron is lost when we sweat, so athletes need more. Female athletes lose iron during their menstruation cycle so focusing on iron consumption is key. You should try and take in 8 mg of iron if you are male and 18 mg for women. Vegetarians are also at risk for becoming iron deficient.
There are countless plant sources of iron that are just as high in iron as most animal sources are. Make sure to consume vitamin C-filled foods along with iron dense foods to promote absorption. Remember, if you are an athlete, you should have a bit more than this. If you are concerned about the iron levels in your blood, contact your doctor and they can schedule a blood test to check your status.
Yes, female athletes are at a high risk for iron deficiency, but endurance athletes such as runners are at just as high of a risk.
Running for extended periods of time means striking your foot to the ground constantly. This is called foot strike hemolysis. It causes damage to red blood cells in the feet, which correlates to iron loss in the body. Long duration exercises like running can mean you need to increase your iron needs to almost 30 percent more.
Female runners have an even more challenging time keeping iron levels high enough. If the thought of taking an iron supplement is running through your mind, talk to your doctor about the diverse types and amounts.
Some healthy sources of heme iron are light, canned tuna, cooked shrimp and cooked lamb and beef. Heme iron is only found in animal products. Nonheme iron is plant-based iron. Healthy sources of nonheme iron are beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, spinach and wheat flours.
Nonheme iron foods should be consumed with foods that are rich in vitamin C so they can be absorbed more readily. Some popular foods with vitamin C are oranges, red bell peppers and kiwis. If you are having trouble incorporating these foods into your diet, here are some tips to help you out along the way.
A burrito is an excellent choice, especially a whole-wheat wrap, because you can pile it high with beans, peppers and salsa to combine iron and vitamin C-filled foods in one big meal.
The addition of a lean meat can increase the iron content as well. A pre- or post-workout snack can be trail mix. Try making trail mix with a fortified cereal such as oat squares or shredded wheat, dark chocolate bits and dried fruit.
Topping a spinach salad with vitamin C-filled fruits can help with iron absorption after the meal. Varying plant-based and animal-based iron rich foods is perfect for keeping levels of iron in your body at an adequate level.
Increase iron in your diet by eating iron-rich foods every day, eat lean red meats and poultry at least three to four times a week and avoid strong coffee when eating iron-dense foods.
Mallory Ritthamel is a third-year student majoring in nutrition. She can be reached at MR826188@wcupa.edu.