You’ve taken days off, you’re following a smart training plan, but you just can’t shake the lead from your legs, the sluggishness from your mind and body.
It’s frustratingly and feels beyond logic, til you talk to a few other female friends who say they were feeling the same way and found out the cause was low iron stores or anemia.
Well-known sports nutritionist Nancy Clark predicts nearly 50% of women are deficient and it’s severely effecting their performance.
Iron and Runners?
Why are runners so susceptible to low iron? Usually it’s a combination of factors creating a perfect storm:
- Intense workouts can cause iron loss through sweat
- Intense workouts can decrease iron absorption as our digestion shuts down
- Foot strikes can break red blood cells
- The body requires more oxygen to recover after workouts
- Lack of appropriate nutrients in the diet
What does iron do for us?
The body requires iron to transport oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and to muscle tissue, which uses oxygen to create energy. Without adequate iron stores, athlete’s performance suffers. Males need about 8 mg/day and females need 18 mg/day.
While iron isn’t difficult to find in the diet – both from animal and plant sources, iron deficiency remains the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide.
Certain populations are at a higher risk of deficiency, including women of childbearing age (who lose iron during menstruation) and vegans and vegetarians who do not eat a balanced diet.
Symptoms aren’t always consistent, but these are most common:
- Sluggishness you can’t shake with adequate rest
- Feeling short of breath on runs
- Cold all the time
- Feeling slightly depressed or down
One great tool for runners is your annual free physical! Most insurances provide this and it allows you to get your blood work done, but you can also do more with other blood tests, like I detailed here>>
A good test will look at:
- hemoglobin (Hg),
- hematocrit (Hct),
- iron (Fe
- total iron binding capacity (TIBC)
Anemia is low hemoglobin and hematocrit.
Iron deficiency is low iron, high total iron binding capacity, low ferritin (a measure of your iron stores).
Plant-Based Iron Sources
But don’t go piling your plate with red meat just yet! We know there are benefits to reducing red meat consumption (you don’t have to give it up entirely if you don’t want to, but daily is going to lead to a different set of problems).
Whitney English an MS, RDN, CPT is going to give us some great tips on getting iron through plant-based sources!
While plants are rich sources of iron, they contain a form of iron that is not as readily absorbed in the body as the iron found in animals. However, with a carefully planned diet and by keeping in mind a few beneficial tips to increase bioavailability, a plant-based diet can easily meet a person’s daily requirement for this vital nutrient.Here are some of the top plant-based sources iron:
Soybeans, cooked (1 cup): 8.8 mg
Blackstrap molasses (2 T.): 7.2 mg
Lentils, cooked (1 cup): 6.6 mg
Tofu (1/2 cup): 6.6 mg
Swiss Chard, cooked (1 cup): 4 mg
White Beans (1/2 cup): 3.3 mg
Tahini (2 T.): 2.7 mg
Cashews (1 oz): 1.9 mg
Baked Potato with Skin: 1.8 mg
Quinoa (1/2 cup): 1.4 mg
Kale, cooked (1 cup): 1.2 mg
Raisins (1.5 oz): 0.8 mg
Consuming plant-based sources of iron with a source of vitamin C helps increase absorption of iron. Vitamin C rich foods include citrus, strawberries, red peppers, and leafy greens.
Additionally, choosing iron sources that are lower in “anti-nutrients” like phytic acid and oxalates, which can bind iron and prevent it’s absorption, will help increase iron bioavailability. Spinach for example is rich in iron but it’s high oxalate content makes it a poor source. To reduce the phytic acid in iron-rich foods like beans, soaking, sprouting, and cooking is recommended. Finally, calcium can inhibit iron absorption so calcium supplements should be taken at least 2 hours from eating iron-rich foods.
Enjoy a Buddha Bowl packed with quinoa, lentils, and cooked kale with some fresh sliced red bell peppers and you’ve got an iron-packed meal perfect for fueling your fitness!
Looking for more healthy recipes to maximize your iron intake? Try these:
Whitney English MS, RDN, CPT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer in Los Angeles. Whitney is the founder of the website Whitney E. RD where she shares healthy original recipes, nutrition advice, and fun, functional workouts. Whitney also hosts the YouTube series, “The Sitch,” where she breaks down complex and controversial nutrition topics into easily digestible bites of information.
And here’s a little more to help you understand WHY an R.D. is where you need to look for trusted nutrition info.
All too frequently, when I tell someone that I’m a Registered Dietitian, their next response is, “How is that different than a #nutritionist?” 🤔 I don’t blame them, it’s confusing with all of the emerging titles these days 👩⚕️ Other than qualifications like education and clinical practice, RDs (aka Registered Dietitian Nutritionists) share something that I think is paramount to patient care and something that not all “experts” rely on: evidence-based practice 🔍 Basically, it means that our #nutrition advice must be backed up by good science – not animal studies, not anecdotal reports, not “ancient wisdom” – #SCIENCE 🔬Our *legally-protected* title requires it. The term “nutritionist” in any incantation other than “RDN” does not hold that same requirement, because “nutritionist” is not a legally-protected title in many states (including California) 🚫 I constantly see “nutrition experts” online (cough, cough, Dr. Axe) advocating practices that are not backed by good science and that in some cases are actually dangerous (ex. coffee enemas for cancer patients 😳). It’s upsetting and terrifying, which is why the public needs to understand the crucial difference between these titles. Want to learn more? Check out the full video on my YouTube channel – link in bio 🙌🏼 #thesitch #knowledgeispower #showmethescience #whitskitch #rdn #dietitian #rdtobe #registereddietitian
Have you ever had your iron levels tested?
Do you pay attention to micronutrients in your food?
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