Female runners and iron

Women runners and iron deficiency

If you've noticed a decline in your run times lately, or are feeling tired but can’t figure out why, then it's possible that is down to a depletion of iron in your body.

Studies show that more than half of all women runners are deficient in iron. Iron deficiency can result in fatigue and poor endurance, since the blood is unable to carry oxygen as efficiently to working muscles. Feeling cold is another tell-tale sign that iron levels may be low. Though a loss of iron does occur during menstruation, iron deficiency is generally considered to be due to a lack of iron in the diet.

A recent study reported that women distance runners usually get less than the recommended daily allowance of 15 milligrams. The highest loss of iron per day in top athletes can be up to 2mg. The decline in performance starts when the daily intake fails to meet this.

The solution to this is usually simple: eat more iron-rich foods. Lean red meat and dark poultry are considered excellent sources of iron. It's a fact that many women steer clear of red meat due to its fat content, but by choosing lean cuts you can meet your iron requirement while still maintaining a low-fat diet.

Vegetarian runners will be able to get a good source of iron from lentils and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. But if you’re eating a fortified breakfast cereal to boost your iron intake, make sure not to drink coffee or tea during your meal as these drinks block the body’s ability to absorb iron. If you need a drink with your breakfast then choose Vitamin C drinks such as orange juice which actually help the body absorb iron.

If you do have low iron levels, it may be wise to start taking a supplement, but check with your GP beforehand. Remember, too much iron can limit your body’s ability to absorb zinc and may also cause constipation. The best way to make sure you’re getting enough iron is to consume 2 to 4oz (57 to 113g) of lean red meat or dark poultry each day.

Once your iron levels are back up to a healthy level, you’ll soon see an improvement in your running performance as well as an increase in your general energy levels.

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