Low iron levels are fairly common among distance runners, but what does this really mean?
Iron deficiency, or anemia, is a condition is which the body is unable to replace lost red blood cells that contain iron. This is important because iron is what carries oxygen in the blood and delivers it to the lungs and muscles.
If you do not have the right amount of iron, oxygen cannot get to the rest of your body effectively. Lack of iron can lead to fatigue, feeling cold, and decreased physical performance. (See What's Missing From the Female Athlete's Diet, Part 2: Iron.)
Women require 18 milligrams of iron per day and men require 8 milligrams. Iron needs can be met either through supplements or by eating foods that contain iron. There are two categories of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in meats and is easily absorbed into the body. Nonheme is found in plants and is not as easily used by the body.
Due to the amount of physical stress running places on the body, runners are at a high risk for experiencing iron deficiency. Distance runners should be especially diligent to ensure that they are meeting their daily iron needs to prevent the condition and its effects. (See Boost Iron and Build a Better Burger.)
Top Sources of Iron
According to the USDA Nutrient Database:
- Iron-fortified breakfast cereal (1 cup) - 4.5-18mg
- Pumpkin seeds (1 oz.) - 4.2mg
- Soybeans (1/2 cup) - 3.5 mg
- Raisins (2/3 cup) - 2.1mg
- Tofu (1/2 cup) - 2.0 mg
- Lean beef (3 oz.) - 1.8mg
- Beans (black, white, lima, kidney) (1/2 cup) - 1.4-6.3mg
Get some great recipes in 5 Ways to Boost Your Iron Intake.