Iron and Endurance Athletes
Fit For Life Physical Therapy
Rebecca Youngs, MS, RD, LD
Have you ever felt really sluggish, lethargic, or tired despite taking it easy on your recovery runs, fueling appropriately, sleeping, and recovering? A lot of walkers and runners, especially long-distance runners, come across this sensation. It can mean several things, but in many instances endurance athletes struggle with low iron levels. Iron should be something runners focus on when it comes to their nutrition since it is involved in so many pathways in our body!
Iron is involved in oxygen transport, metabolism, and is needed for the production of red blood cells. The four groups of individuals at most risk for iron deficiency are endurance athletes (runners!), females, vegetarians, and vegans. It is thought that our red blood cells are physically “destroyed” from the impact of running. Females lose iron through monthly menstruation, and vegetarians or vegans often eliminate high iron sources of food in their diet.
Iron is found in two forms: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is iron found in animal products such as chicken, red meat, seafood, and fish. This is the iron that is absorbed the best. Non-heme iron is found in plant-based products like nuts, seeds, fortified grains, and beans. Non-heme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron. Pairing non-heme iron foods with Vitamin C can help increase this absorption!
Ultimately, a blood test is needed to assess iron levels. In some cases, supplementation with iron pills is needed and should be monitored by a medical professional or dietitian, but all runners can help avoid this by prioritizing iron rich sources of food!
Focus on incorporating iron rich foods into your daily diet such as:
- Dried beans
- Egg yolks
- Lean beef
- Enriched grains
Avoid eating these iron rich foods with things high in tannins, phytates, or polyphenols; these are compounds that decrease absorption. These include:
- Red wine
- Large amounts of milk (4-6 cups/day)
If you continue to experience issues with fatigue, mental fog, and feelings of being run down, check in with a medical professional to see if further supplementation is needed!
Registered & Licensed Dietitian Rebecca Youngs is an avid marathoner, loves to work out, and has specialized her practice in gastrointestinal health, as well as sports nutrition and fueling athletes of all levels. She is available for individual consultations at Fit For Life Physical Therapy or through zoom video conference.
Fit For Life Physical Therapy cares for people of all activity levels - to help prevent, recover from, or rehabilitate sports & orthopedic injuries. We are proud to move people every day.
Please visit our website https://www.fitforlifephysicaltherapy.com/, email us at email@example.com, or call or text us at any of the phone numbers for our three convenient locations inside Fleet Feet/FrontRunner stores:
Polaris: 1270 East Powell Road Lewis Center, Ohio 43035 ~ 614-981-2065
Upper Arlington: 1344 West Lane Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43221 ~ 614-981-1979
New Albany: 5792 North Hamilton Road, Columbus, Ohio 43230 ~ 614-581-7441