Runners sometimes need extra nutrients because of the vigorous exercise we put our bodies through. Most of us are well aware we need extra potassium because we tend to sweat a lot, especially in hot weather.
But what about other key nutrients like iron? Should runners take iron supplements to make sure our performances and health don’t suffer?
What Iron Does for Your Body
Iron isn’t a negotiable nutrient — we have to have it whether we run or not. It helps move oxygen through our bodies, and we need it for growth and development.
When you don’t have enough iron, your red blood cells suffer. You can’t make all the red blood cells your body needs — that’s bad news for your overall health and energy levels.
How Much is Enough?
That depends on several factors. Your age, health and gender all play into how much iron you need.
Women tend to need more iron than men. For most men, 8 milligrams a day is adequate. Women should shoot for 18 milligrams a day, and even more if they are pregnant.
What Are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?
Mild anemia, or iron deficiency, isn’t necessarily even noticed — it can escape your attention. You’ll know it when your anemia begins to get worse, however.
You will feel tired and fatigued. It won’t be the kind of fatigue you experience when you stay up all night having drinks with your friends.
It will be chronic, lasting much longer than a day or two. You’ll find it’s a struggle to do what you used to do with ease — even a short run can seem too difficult.
You may feel weak, be short of breath, have cold hands and feet, and feel dizzy or lightheaded. You may notice you look as pale as a vampire.
Iron deficiencies are common in runners, and sometimes we may need to supplement or increase our intake of iron-rich foods to boost our levels.
Should I Take an Iron Supplement?
Before you decide to start taking iron supplements, you should find out what your iron level is. That will help rule out any other condition that might be causing your symptoms.
You can ask a doctor to test your serum ferritin level if you believe your iron level may be low. If your levels are within the normal guidelines, you won’t need an iron supplement.
How Can I Get Iron Through Food Sources?
If your iron level is a tad bit low and you’d rather boost it through food sources instead of supplementation, it should be easy to do if you incorporate a few foods into your diet.
Some foods you’ll want to add to your grocery list are:
- Lean beef
- Iron-fortified cereals and breads
Will I Ever Feel Better?
If you have an iron deficiency, it may seem like you’ll never be back to your old self. Don’t worry — you will.
Follow your doctor’s orders if he determines you should begin iron supplementation. If he says you don’t need it because your iron levels are borderline, try eating some iron-rich foods.
Within a few days, you’ll begin to feel better. Before long, you’ll be out on the open road competing like you used to before you had iron problems.