When I start working with a new athlete-client, the first order of business is for the athlete to have a complete physical, including blood-work. Ideally, we do this during the athlete’s transition, preparation, or early base phase when the training intensity levels are still relatively low. We do this to determine a baseline for serum ferritin, hemoglobin, reticulocytes, and haptoglobin, among other important lab tests. One common result of these tests, common with endurance athletes is iron deficiency, especially among women, teen-age girls, and master’s age athletes: the latter category making up the mainstay of our athlete-clients at Triability coach. As an endurance coach, it is important to have a working knowledge of proper nutrition, or lack thereof, and act accordingly to preserve the health and well-being of the athlete.
Iron Deficiency Causes
A poor diet, over-training, or both can cause an iron deficiency. Running high volume, especially if done so on hard surfaces, excessive anaerobic-training, overuse of aspirin, training or vacationing at high altitude, a diet low in animal product, or high menstrual flow are all causes. Females are more likely to have iron deficiency then men, although males are not immune. Athletes most susceptible, in order, are runners, women endurance athletes, vegetarians, those who sweat a-lot, dieters, blood donors, and vegans.
Effects of Iron Deficiency
Obviously, there are symptoms that come with iron deficiency; these include a loss of endurance, elevated heart rate during workouts, loss of power, frequent injury and illness, and moodiness or attitude issues. Since these are similar to over-training, athletes often cut back on their training. Once the symptoms subside, the athlete increase the training volume – intensity, or both, often too-quickly in an attempt to make up for loss training, and the symptoms re-occur. The actual culprit, iron deficiency, often goes undetected.
How to Increase Iron Intake
Athletes can get the necessary iron their bodies need by eating enough iron-rich foods. Adult men need 8 to 10 milligrams of iron a day; adult women need 15 to 18 milligrams of iron a day. Athletes likely need a little more than non-athletes do; your doctor may even recommend you take an iron supplement in addition to eating an iron-rich diet. What makes up an iron-rich diet you ask? Meats, such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish, and shellfish are important to have in your diet. Liver is especially high in iron. Leafy green vegetables are also important to consume daily. Other foods that will increase your iron intake include raisins, peas, beans, lentils, barley, and eggs. Breakfast cereals fortified with Iron are also beneficial.
You may think that if you have an iron deficiency, the solution is easy – take a supplement, after-all this is what we tend to do with other deficiencies. However, this is not recommended for iron, unless your health care provider or registered dietitian recommends it. Iron-overload, called hemochromatosis, is possible in some people. A proper diet and regularly scheduled blood tests will help you avoid or reverse iron deficiency.
Gregg Seltzer is the coach at Triability Coach, which specializes coaching, master’s age group athletes, and is a certified coach by the USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, and USA Track & Field governing bodies. Gregg is also a strength & conditioning trainer. Gregg competes in multiple endurance events annually, and is a crazed trail runner in the off-season. Gregg Seltzer is reachable at email@example.com for comment, feedback, or questions. Follow Gregg at Twitter.com/triabilitycoach. Our phone number at Triability Coach is 800.884.2194.