Iron deficiencies occur in up to 50% of female endurance athletes. Yes, 1 in 2 of you will have inadequate iron levels and may experience some of the consequences commonly associated with iron deficiency; performance declines, fatigue, dizziness, higher than normal heart rates during exercise, delayed recovery from workouts, muscle cramps, sleep problems…all the symptoms you don’t want to feel during training!
This has been well reported and has led to widespread blind supplementation of iron. The result? Many athletes are making fundamental errors when treating themselves. First and foremost, identifying whether you need an iron supplement is very important. A recent study concludes that 11% of elite female runners have iron overload! This carries unnecessary general health risks. Secondly, if iron supplementation is needed identifying the appropriate dose of iron and form best suited for you is critical to getting benefit from your supplement.
What Causes Iron Deficiency?
Many factors influence iron levels. In athletes, some of the most influential factors include training volume, food preferences, food intake, menstrual cycle, and food quality. Although some of these factors can be partially controlled, other big factors cannot. For example, the food we eat nowadays is deficient in vitamins and minerals. According to Kushi Institute, analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent. The cause appears to be reductions in soil quality and vitamin and mineral levels secondary to “over-farming”. Another example of a factor that is not easily controlled is iron absorption rate. Absorption rates of iron are influenced by genetics, gut flora, intestinal health, and even psychological factors like stress.
Given the variables associated with an athlete’s physiology and the variables in foods/supplements, it is critical that you get your blood reviewed by a Sport Science expert.
“If you are a woman and train more than 5 hours per week you should have your serum iron and ferritin levels checked.” Susan McNamee, Betty squad 2017
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