Why Athletes Need to Worry about Iron

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Nutrition Blog

Our bodies lose small amounts of iron when we sweat while exercising. Without enough iron, we can’t use oxygen properly to produce energy. This can impair an athlete’s ability to compete because without enough energy they can’t fuel their performance.

Why is iron so important in the body?

Iron is a component of haemoglobin and an essential mineral found in every cell of the body. Haemoglobin is a protein that carries both oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Iron plays a key role in the transfer of oxygen in muscle cells. It also helps the body to convert carbohydrates into energy during exercise. This component also helps to produce new cells. Protein and hormones make us stronger when recovering from strenuous exercise.

Our bodies don’t produce iron naturally, so we have to get it from diet or supplementation to ensure we meet our nutritional needs. Remember that the first prize is to get iron from what you eat, however if you can’t manage this then you’ll need to take supplements.

Too much iron is a bad thing

Though some athletes believe increasing your iron intake improves athletic performance, taking iron supplements when you don’t need them can be detrimental to your health. It can lead to hemochromatosis, which can be deadly.

However, if athletes don’t get enough iron, they suffer from iron deficiency or anaemia.

What is anaemia?

Anaemia is when the haemoglobin levels in your body are low. As a result, the iron levels in the body are low. Iron deficiency happens when athletes or weight lifters have low ferritin levels but their haemoglobin is normal.

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  • Constant feeling of fatigue
  • Short attention span and irritability
  • Decreased immune function
  • Headaches
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Heart failure

In order to avoid iron deficiency and anaemia, keep an eye on your iron by getting a blood test. It checks both your haemoglobin and ferritin levels.

You can also include the right foods in your diet to prevent iron deficiency.

What foods contain iron?

There are two types of iron sources found in food. These can be found in heme and non-heme foods:

  • Heme foods include meat, fish and poultry. Up to 25% of the iron found in these foods is absorbed into the body.
  • Non-heme foods include vegetables and supplements. These iron sources are is only absorbed at a rate of 3 to 15%.

Sources of dietary iron come from:

  • Cooked beans
  • Lentils
  • Dried fruits
  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chlorella
  • Vegetables (broccoli, spinach and kale)

Experts recommend that children between the ages of one and eight consume 7 to 10mg of iron per day. Children nine and older should consume eight milligrams of iron per day. Children between the ages of 14 and 18 require 11 to 15mg of iron per day. The average male adult only needs eight mg of iron per day. Women between the ages of 19 and 50, on the other hand, should consume 18 mg of iron per day.

To enhance iron absorption in the body, combine iron-rich foods with those that are high in vitamin C.  Citrus fruits – such as oranges and grapefruit – are good examples of foods that contain high levels of this vitamin.

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Without iron, many athletes wouldn’t be able to function for too long, as they will experience fatigue and heart trouble. During a race, this can be potentially disastrous. That’s why, just like non-athletic people, they should make sure they consume enough iron. This prevents them from getting iron deficiency or anaemia. Want to know more about how nutrition and athletic performance interact? Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Athletic Nutrition Course is just the course for you! Follow this link for more information.

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