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Athletic ladies of all ages who suffer from decreased performance may be suffering from iron deficiency. Many women who are watching their weight will eat more salads. Thinking that eating a lot vegetables and less red meat is healthier. This is true, but not including red meat in your diet can cause iron deficiency.
Low iron levels will decrease levels of erythropoieses (the hormone EPO which is responsible for red cell production) which controls hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is the component of blood that carries oxygen. What does all this mean to women? A noticeable drop in performance will be occurring.
During periods of high training volume, weight loss or menstruation iron deficiency will be more noticeable. Studies show that 50% of women runners are iron deficient. Feeling chilled or cold is a common symptom of low iron levels. This could explain why some women who are always feeling cold.
The recommended daily allowance for iron is 15 milligrams. Your performance will start to decline on the day that the recommended daily allowance is not met. Thankfully one of the solutions is quite simple; eat more iron-rich foods. Two very good sources of iron are red meat and dark poultry. Many women will shy away from red meat and dark poultry due to the fat content.
Choosing lean cuts of red meat will meet your daily iron requirements of iron and still maintain a low-fat diet.
For vegetarians, two iron rich sources include lentils and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Do not drink coffee or tea when eating iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Coffee and tea block the body?s ability to absorb iron. Drinking orange juice which has vitamin C actually helps the body absorb iron. Drinking orange juice with iron rich foods actually helps the body with absorption.
If you have low iron levels now, you can take supplements. Be sure to check with your doctor about recommended dosages. Too much iron can create other problems. Excessive amounts of iron will cause constipation and the body?s ability to absorb zinc. Several studies have shown that no benefit can be found in taking iron supplements. The best way to get enough iron is to consume 2-4oz of red meat a day.
Once your iron levels are back up to normal you will be amazed by the improvements in performance as well as increased energy levels for daily activities.
A recipe for iron deficiency anemai seems to be: women who have heavy menstrual periods and do not eat red meat nor iron-fortified breakfast cereal.
If that sounds like you -- and if you are having trouble completing your workouts, you should get your blood tested for anemia. Be sure to ask to have your serum ferritin measured, to see if your iron stores are depleted.
Nancy Clark RD CSSD
Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
Sports dietitian and food/weight coach
Author, Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook