Being Iron Man (or Woman)

Maddy WendtJune 27, 20101

Breathlessness, delayed recovery, cold intolerance, feeling fatigued after even mild exercise – any athlete has experience these symptoms at some point or another during their training.  Usually they are signs of an oncoming cold and the remedy is simply to slow down for a few days.  In some cases though, these may be signs of a severe iron deficiency.

Iron is essential to athletic performance, and especially to endurance events.  According to a study commissioned by the USSA in 2007, athletes’ need for iron is 30% greater than that of the general population due to increased energy turnover and increased muscle building and repair.  Anemia, or iron deficiency, is a serious disorder that thousands of athletes have struggled with, particularly women.  Severely anemic athletes may find it impossible to jog even a mile or make it to the top of a hill.

Iron is an essential component in the production of oxygen transport proteins and in the production of new red blood cells, which means that without sufficient iron, the immune system suffers and adjustment to altitude is much slower.  Because the body cannot produce its own supply of iron, athletes must rely on their diet to provide it.  The recommended daily dose of iron is 10 mg for men and 18 mg for women.

Iron supplements

Here are some foods that are great for iron intake:
Raisin bran (10 mg/serving)
Liver (8.3 mg/serving)
Beef (2.3 mg/serving)
Apricots (2 mg/serving)
Spinach (2 mg/serving)
Baked beans (2 mg/serving)
Kidney beans (2 mg/serving)
Chicken breast (1 mg/serving)
Milk chocolate (1 mg/serving)
Broccoli (1 mg/serving)
Raisins (1 mg/serving)

You can also pun iron in your diet by cooking in a cast iron skillet.  It should be noted that the body more readily absorbs iron found in meat than iron found in plants.  Vitamin C aids the rate of absorption while caffeine hinders it.  Iron supplements are also widely available and relatively inexpensive.  Getting enough iron is easy if you eat carefully, and it can make a world of difference.

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Maddy Wendt

Maddy is on the Nordic ski team at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where her majors are psychology, political science, skiing, and being an awesome JA.

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One comment

  • mygatt

    June 28, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Careful though, iron supplementation should not be played around with! You can have too much iron in your blood, which can be detrimental in many ways: increased risk of liver disease, heart failure, metabolic problems, endocrine trouble, and more. (Look into hemachromatosis, or iron overload, if you are interested.) I definitely agree that it’s important to keep an eye on iron intake as an athlete – especially as a female athlete – but if you’re on your own, it’s best to do it through foods. In my opinion, iron supplementation should only be done with the support/oversight of a health care provider.

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