Iron deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies worldwide. An enormous percentage of the global population are deficient in iron stores to some degree and many may not even realize. If you’re a fitness fanatic, you are particularly at risk.
So what is iron deficiency and how do you fix the issue? Read on to find out.
A seriously low level of iron can lead to extreme illness and is something you should try to rectify immediately.
I personally experienced severe iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy and it can become very nasty. Constant fatigue, headaches, sickness, and even lightheadedness and fainting are symptoms of low iron.
Are you at risk? The only way to be sure is to be tested. However, if you are working out hard on a regular basis and, in particular, a woman, you are likely to be at higher risk of becoming iron deficient.
What Is Iron and Who Needs It?
Everyone needs iron. It is one of our essential nutrients, meaning your body can’t produce enough on its own and we must consume it in our daily diets.
Iron is needed for a number of bodily functions, most prominently as a key component in hemoglobin (found in the blood). It aids in the creation and maintenance of red blood cells and transfers oxygen around the body. Iron also ensures that your muscular and skeletal systems grow and form properly.
How Much Iron Do We Need?
Women need more iron on a daily basis than men. This is because women are more prone to iron loss due to the menstrual cycle and are at higher risk of iron deficiency. Men need about 8 milligrams of iron daily and women need around 18 milligrams daily. This is the recommended daily value (RDV).
Regardless of whether you’re male or female, if you are an athlete, a bodybuilder or just general fitness fanatic, you’re at risk of low iron stores due to loss of iron through sweat. Overtraining and not getting enough rest can also contribute to iron deficiencies.
Moreover, runners have a higher risk of low iron levels. There is a phenomenon where the repetitive action of your foot hitting the floor causes your red blood cells to break down faster and increase the loss of iron. This is called footstrike hemolysis.
How to Boost Your Iron Stores
There are a number of ways to boost your iron levels and prevent anemia.
Eat an Iron-Rich Diet
The ultimate way to get optimal levels of iron is by consuming an iron-rich diet. The two types of iron are:
Derived from myoglobin and hemoglobin, heme iron comes primarily from meat, seafood, and poultry. Our body utilizes this type of iron much better and can be found in a number of sources:
- Shellfish, clams, and oysters.
- Liver and other organ meat.
- Red meat.
- Chicken and turkey.
This type of iron is found in plant sources. Although it is another good source of iron, it is not absorbed as efficiently by the body. There are many sources, including:
- Tofu and soybeans.
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Sesame seeds.
- Spinach and other leafy greens.
- Iron-enriched cereals.
- Beans and lentils.
- Dried fruit.
Eat Iron with Vitamin C
Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron. So, while eating a juicy steak, have a glass of fresh orange juice to wash it down.
Avoid Mixing Iron-Rich Foods With Caffeine or Dairy
Both caffeine and dairy can decrease your iron absorption by up to 62 percent. Therefore, if you eat iron-rich cereal for breakfast, try having your cup of tea before eating.
If you feel your iron stores are at risk of being depleted, then supplementation could be an excellent way of boosting your levels.
You can try a multivitamin supplement for overall, optimum health. A traditional women’s multivitamin will provide you with the RDV of 18 milligrams of iron.
But if you are deficient in iron, you could benefit more from an individual iron supplement with up to 30 milligrams per serving.
It is important to note that too much iron can also be a bad thing. If you feel you could be at risk of low stores, speak to your doctor and have your levels tested before choosing an iron supplement with a high level of iron.
Also, try choosing an iron supplement with “ate” at the end of the word, such as ferrous sulfate, fumarate, or gluconate, as these are more easily absorbed by the body.
Many people find it difficult to maintain proper iron levels in their diet. Those who exercise regularly are even more at risk of low iron stores and therefore anemia, due to a number of reasons.
When you work out often, it is important to ensure you boost your iron stores to stay healthy. Consuming an iron-rich diet is the best way to do this naturally. Supplements are also a great way to stay on top of your iron levels, especially if you hit the gym regularly.