So we’ll start with iron, which is a popular topic among females – especially female athletes.
But let me preface this post with the fact that I’m not an RD yet, and all of the information I provide is based on my nutrition education thus far and reliable research.
HO-Kay. So, according to recent research, iron deficiency has been reported to affect as many as 60% of female athletes.
(me, a female athlete)
Insane, right? We need iron to help our red blood cells carry oxygen to our hardworking muscles – especially those of us that are endurance athletes.
Females typically don’t get enough iron in their diets, and our monthly “friend” in addition to hard physical training can cause a gradual lowering of our iron stores if we’re not getting enough.
First, there’s a difference between iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia
Iron deficiency is when the body is low in stored iron, and this depletion can occur over time. While it may not cause any recognizable symptoms, it can still effect athletic performance. Diet and supplementation (only by doctor recommendation) can fix this, but if the low iron level or its cause is not corrected, it can lead to muscle weakness and eventually iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia is when low iron levels persist and prevent the body from making enough healthy red blood cells, which often leads to symptoms of fatigue. Iron deficiency anemia should be treated, and can cause damage to the heart and other organs if it’s not.
Both iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia can effect athletic performance, so if you have symptoms or are concerned – pay a visit to your doc!
If you want to prevent iron deficiency, here’s how you can make sure you get enough.
Females need 18 mg of iron per day. What does this mean?
Here’s the iron content in iron-rich foods:
- Lean red meat – one serving of broiled sirloin (about 3 oz.) has about 1.5 mg
- Chicken – 1/2 0f chicken breast has about 1 mg
- Turkey – one serving (about 3 oz.) of light meat has about 1.1 mg iron, dark meat about 2 mg
- Tuna – 1/2 can has about 1 mg
- Oysters – one serving (about 3 oz.) has about 4 mg
- Eggs (yolks) – one yolk has about 0.5 mg
- Broccoli – 1/2 cup chopped raw has about 0.3 mg
- Spinach 1/2 cup raw has about 0.4 mg
- Kale – 1/2 cup raw has about 0.6 mg
- Lentils – 1/2 cup cooked has about 3 mg
- Chickpeas – 1 cup canned has about 3 mg
- Dried fruit – 1 small box of raisins has about 0.8 mg; 10 dried apricot halves has about 1 mg
- Artichokes – 1 medium cooked has about 1.5 mg
- Nuts – 1 oz. of mixed nuts has about 1 mg
- Whole grains – various amounts – check out your labels!
Note that the “one serving” listed above for many meats is smaller than the typical American portion, even though it’s technically what a serving size should be (and that’s a whole ‘nother post!). I used this resource for the above standard amounts, although it may vary from product to product.
Animal sources of iron (called “heme” sources) are more easily absorbed by the body than plant sources (called “non heme”), and to help increase absorption of plant-based iron sources, eat them with animal sources (like broccoli with chicken or fish with spinach).
Vegetarian? Eat iron-rich foods along with foods high in vitamin C, which also enhances iron absorption. This could mean lentils, spinach and red bell peppers or some OJ along with your morning iron-fortified cereal.
Some foods inhibit iron absorption – most notably coffee, tea and calcium – so make sure to consume your iron rich foods sans your daily caffeine fix and/or calcium supplements.
I know iron deficiency and anemia is of particular concern to vegetarians, and you may need to pay particular attention to your diet. The good news is that a lot of vegetarian-friendly grains, like cereal and breads, are fortified with iron, and there are plenty of plant-based sources for you to focus on.
So to recap, if you want to make sure your body has enough of this important mineral:
- Take a look at your diet – are you eating enough iron-rich sources regularly?
- Consume iron-rich foods with meats and/or vitamin C and nix the coffee, tea and calcium to maximize absorption
- Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of anemia or want to discuss supplementation
Question: Do you think you get enough iron? Was this post helpful?