While pumping iron is critical for improving athletic performance, a lack of the nutrient iron can be detrimental to performance. No wonder Popeye the Sailor Man downs a can of spinach before physical exertion.
Iron deficiency, which is especially prevalent in female athletes, prevents the body’s cells from getting enough oxygen, causing fatigue, dizziness, headaches and even decreased immunity. Athletes, particularly those in endurance sports, depend on efficient oxygen delivery to working muscles. Furthermore, when you sweat, you actually lose a bit of iron with each drop. If you’re looking to build muscle or up your endurance level, it'll be a tough road without a adequate amount of iron.
In the following video, Liz Applegate, Oakland Raiders team nutritionist and director of sports nutrition at UC Davis, explains why iron is a crucial part of an athlete's diet.
Listed below are Recommended Dietary Amounts of iron. If you are unsure about your own needs, consult your doctor.
14-18 years old — 11mg/day
19+ years old — 8mg/day
14-18 years old — 15mg/day
19+ years old — 18mg/day
Many foods are rich in this essential energizing mineral. Check out these top sources, with number of milligrams of iron:
3 oz — 14mg, 126 calories
½ cup — 1-3mg, varying numbers of calories
White Beans, Lentils and Soybeans
½ cup white beans — 3.9mg, 153 calories
½ cup lentils — 3.3mg, 115 calories
½ cup soybeans — 4.4mg, 140 calories
½ cup of fortified breakfast cereal — up to 18mg, varying numbers of calories
½ cup oatmeal — 10mg, varying numbers of calories
½ cup spinach — 2-3mg, approx. 20 calories
1 oz — 4.2mg, 148 calories
Also, consciously consuming Vitamin C with your meals can enhance iron absorption into your system.
Sources: Office of Dietary Supplement, firstendurance.com