Do you ever feel like you are needlessly fatigued? Maybe you cannot run up hills like you used to be able to do? Or you have to drag yourself through your workouts? If this sounds familiar, you certainly want to consult with your doctor and get your blood tested to rule out anemia. Ask the MD to measure your serum ferritin. That’s your stored iron. The iron in your blood can be at a normal level but if your iron stores are depleted, you can feel needlessly tired during exercise.
• An estimate half of female athletes have iron-deficiency, as indicated by low serum ferritin stores. (In the general population of women, about 14% are iron deficient.)
• A study with college-age male runners suggests that 21% of male cross-country and distance runners had low serum ferritin.
Just think how much better all of these athletes could perform if they were not iron-deficient!
These days, many athletes are not eating red meat (an excellent source of iron), and they have stopped eating iron-enriched breakfast cereals. That is, they have traded their Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (enriched with iron) for an “all natural” brand of cereal, such as Kashi, that has nothing added to it—including no iron.
To prevent anemia, you want to enjoy iron-rich foods on a daily basis. Red meat is one of the best sources of iron, but if you are a non-meat eater, other common sources of iron include dark meat chicken (legs, thighs) and iron-enriched breakfast cereals. Adding a fruit and/or vegetable (rich in vitamin C) with each meal will enhance iron absorption. Taking supplemental iron (as in a multi-vitamin/mineral pill) can help reduce the risk of becoming anemic if you do not eat red meat or iron-enriched breakfast cereals.
For more information on how to eat an iron-rich diet: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
Written by Nancy Clark MS RD, who has a private practice in the Boston-area where she teaches athletes one-on-one how to eat to win. She is author of the best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
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