Why is iron so important for athletes and runners? The short answer is hemoglobin, the protein in your blood that carries oxygen. Athletes need it more than others because they need enough oxygen to get to their muscles to perform. Iron is key to athletic performance, and a lack of iron can have a drastic effect on your running.
Iron deficiency is more predominant in women than men. This is largely due to menstruation and if their diet fails to provide sufficient iron to replenish the loss it can lead to deficiency. Not eating enough iron rich foods or by simply consuming foods that inhibit iron absorption – take for example tea and coffee – is another reason for deficiency. This can lead to a number of disorders that particularly affect women, such as osteoporosis. So it’s just a matter of eating a well-balanced meal.
Many runners choose to eat low-fat diets with a dominance of chicken and fish. But eating foods rich in iron is just as important as calorie counting. The daily-recommended amount for iron is 14.8 mg for women and 19.4 in men. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just spinach that has all the iron reserves. Foods like liver, lean red meat, dried fruit, whole grains, spinach, watercress and curly kale are very iron-rich as well.
Unfortunately, favorites like tea, coffee and alcohol inhibit iron absorption. Many fibre- and calcium-rich foods also dent absorption rates, but you don’t need to extract them from your diet altogether. Try iron- and fibre-packed whole grains instead, and avoid eating iron-rich foods at the same time as foods that prevent iron absorption. It’s a little bit of work, but in the long run it all pays off. It’s all about cultivating the right habits.