Did you know that a recent study showed that almost 56% of runners suffer from an iron deficiency?
An iron deficiency can be tricky to diagnose. After all, many of the symptoms are similar to what you would experience in every day life as a runner. Tired? Check. Shortness of breath? Check. Increased thirst? Check.
In some cases, it’s not until it gets more severe that you recognize that you have an iron deficiency. At this point, it can get extremely dangerous — it may mean a blood transfusion and time in the hospital. So it’s important that you pay attention to your iron levels and know when you may have a deficiency. Because among runners, it’s common — because of running.
Running can cause an increased chance of an iron deficiency because of what it’s used for in the body. But first, let’s talk about what iron is used for. Red blood cells transport oxygen to your muscles when you run. With low iron levels, your body will create fewer red blood cells, which means that your muscles will have less oxygen, resulting in poor running performance.
Now, for runners, there are a few things that happen when you run that cause you to lose iron:
- Foot strike hemolysis destroys red blood cells when the foot hits the ground and as a runner, your foot is striking the ground a lot more often than other runners.
- Iron loss through sweating. While it isn’t a ton, it does add up when you are running day after day, and especially if you are working out in hot and humid weather.
- Stomach or large intensive iron loss. While it is minor, it can accumulate over months of training and lead to an iron deficiency.
- Female runners naturally lose iron on a monthly basis during menstruation, which can further challenge their ability to maintain proper iron levels.
But the good news is that it’s easy to add iron back into your diet to make sure you are getting enough for your needs. There are supplements that you can take (I take an iron supplement on a daily basis and when I don’t, the symptoms listed above occur). And on top of that, there are a lot of great foods that are rich in iron… and most of these foods offer other health benefits so they are easy to integrate into your diet.
Check out my post on Tuesday about the best iron-rich foods for runners!
Do you suffer from an iron deficiency or anemia? What symptoms make you realize it?
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