I will preface this blog by saying, whatever your choices may be in regards to this topic, please consult your doctor first.
It hasn’t been that long since I started this blog, however, I’ve noticed a consistent topic amongst other female bloggers out there and that is, the lack of energy or extreme tiredness they are experiencing while maintaining an active lifestyle.
Which leads me to my next topic – IRON
I have struggled with my iron levels for many years. For me, iron is a four letter word that causes me (at times) grief. Although I’ve not been diagnosed as anemic, my iron has been low enough that I’ve experienced tiredness, short breath, lack of concentration and motivation, and headaches. Low iron can contribute to some of the above symptoms.
What is Iron?
Most iron is found in blood in the form of hemoglobin. Iron in hemoglobin is found in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen through the body. Anemia or low iron can set in when the body lacks iron stores, resulting in lack of energy.
Who suffers from low iron?
As a female and a runner, iron is lost through exercise and as well, monthly blood loss. If you are a female, and have recently begun a more active lifestyle, and are feeling a lot more tired than usual, it’s likely you may be suffering from a lower iron level than your pre-exercise life.
How is Iron defined?
There are two types of iron. One is called heme iron, and the other is called non-heme iron. This is important to know as heme iron is absorbed at about 10-35% whereas the non-heme iron absorption rate is only at 2-20%.
Where can I find more iron?
Heme iron is found in animal meat such as red meat (both heme and non-heme) and fish. Sources include (but not limited to) oysters, steak, chicken, fish, clams, liver and sardines.
Non-Heme iron is found in a lot of plant-based foods. Examples are (but not limited to) cereals fortified with iron, quinoa, lentils, beans, broccoli, chickpeas and tofu.
The most difficult aspect of iron is it’s absorption rate and it’s a slow process to ingest enough iron in the body to build up enough iron stores for adequate iron levels, and to continue these levels while training for your next race.
Here are a few tips for you to get your iron levels up:
- During intake of iron filled foods, also eat a food and/or juice with a high vitamin C content. Vitamin C helps absorb iron.
- Combine both heme and non-heme iron when eating, as heme iron can help the absorption rate of non-heme foods.
- Avoid coffee and tea while eating iron rich foods as they can decrease the absorption rate of iron.
Before I knew a lot about iron, and how to manage it, my first doctor wrote me up a prescription for an iron pill. (i.e. ferrous sulfate) Of course, I did what most would do…take it as prescribed. Let me say, I was miserable. Iron medication can make you constipated. There’s no gentle way to say it. It IS what it is. I tolerated the meds for a few weeks and then abandoned them. I simply could not live my life feeling bloated and icky all the time. After this, I concentrated on eating more iron rich foods.
On my next visit to my doctor’s office, I was introduced to another doctor who was filling in for my regular one. My results indicated I had increased my iron levels up over the months, however, they were still considered low. I told her how I could not possibly take the iron pill as prescribed, and she gave me a better suggestion, which were Pre-Natal ‘One-A-Day’ vitamin pills. She explained to me, that a pre-natal pill has a higher amount of iron than the regular One-A-Day pill. It turned out to be a much better alternative for me as I was already taking a multi-vitamin on a daily basis. There are a few differences between the two in terms of essential vitamins and minerals, but they are minimal in regards to my needs.
Do you suffer from low iron? What choices have you made in your life to improve your iron levels?