Last updated: 18-Dec-15
Written by Sports Dietitian Rin Cobb
Have you ever struggled to muster up the motivation to pound out your usual miles? Or felt un-naturally tired after a routine race? It could be your iron stores are low and as endurance runners it’s vital you remedy this sooner rather than later.
Iron is a mineral, stored as ferritin and has several important jobs within the body such as making new red blood cells, carrying oxygen around the body, metabolism that releases energy for running and also helps to maintain a healthy immune system. So, looking at that list it’s easy to see why iron is so important to endurance runners.
If you become deficient in iron you can become anaemic which is diagnosed following a blood test checking your haemaglobin. Anaemia needs to be corrected either through iron supplementation or intravenously if severe, as prescribed by your doctor. However as a runner, you don’t need to be anaemic for it to hamper your performance and there is more evidence to show that even early stages of iron depletion such as low iron stores could result in signs and symptoms.
Signs & Symptoms
- Feeling flat and tired
- Unable to train as hard as usual
- Poor appetite
- Increased frequency and duration of colds and infections
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Looking pale
So why are endurance runners more prone to iron deficiency? As oxygen fuelled runners, your need for iron increases whilst iron losses maybe higher through sweat and your gut in addition to damaging blood cells in your feet from pounding out all those miles. These increased iron requirements plus losses need to be replaced on a regular basis from your diet so if you have an inadequate intake, this combination of factors can lead you down the path of becoming tired of training.
Should you be diagnosed with anaemia or find yourself iron depleted, it can take many months of treatment to get you back on track so like with most things in life, prevention is better than cure. Most know red meat is a good source of iron however with recent studies suggesting a link between red and processed meat consumption with bowel cancer, the general consensus is to try and eat less of these foods. The good news is there are plenty of other good sources of iron so to give yourself the best chance of keeping those iron levels topped up, try including a variety of these in your daily diet.
Good Dietary Sources of Iron
- Red meat including beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison & goat
- Fortified breakfast cereals: check the label for added iron
- Dried fruit
- Beans, chickpeas including hummus & lentils
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, peas, watercress & curly kale
- Sesame seeds including tahini paste
Female runners or those who have restricted diets are at an even higher risk of iron deficiency so if you tick either of these boxes, prioritizing iron rich foods is a must. Some other hints and tips include having vitamin C containing foods or drinks such as citrus, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, cabbage or tomatoes with your meal, as this helps your body absorb the iron better whereas tannins in tea and coffee can hinder iron absorption so try to avoid having these at the same time as your meal.
If you’ve suffered with anaemia or recognize any of the signs and symptoms why not share your experiences here and how you got back to running.