LEARNING CENTER: HEALTH

Are You Getting Enough Iron?

by Stephanie Nunes, RD

If you feel tired, sluggish, fatigue easily, or have frequent headaches, you may be iron deficient or have iron deficiency anemia.

Why is Iron important?

Iron is a component of hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood. It is also a component of myoglobin which carries oxygen in the muscle. If an athlete is lacking in iron, their performance may suffer and may be more proned to get sick.

Who is susceptible to iron-deficiency?

Athletes who participate in endurance sports and menstruating women are susceptible. Iron can be lost through sweat, urine, blood (with menstruation), and the impact of hard foot strikes may destroy normal blood cells called haemolysis (usually with running mileage>40-50 miles/week).

How much iron should I be eating everyday?

The recommended amount is 10mg for men and 15-18 mg for women. Some suggest that athletes need more. NOTE: 18 mg is used as the Daily Value labeled on food items. An example would be a Promax bar contains 25% DV of Iron (4-5 mg). One cup of Total cereal contains 100% DV of iron (18 mg).

What are the best food sources of iron?

Animal products are the best sources of absorbable iron with beef being the –all time best”. Red meat has 2 times as much iron as chicken and 3 times as much iron as fish. Sources include:

  • Lean beef
  • dark meat of skinless chicken and turkey
  • fish
  • oysters

Are there other sources of iron besides animal products?

Yes, however they are not absorbed as well when eaten alone. The absorption of these foods can be enhanced by eating them along with the animal food sources listed above and/or Vitamin C rich foods. Sources include:

  • beans
  • lentils
  • cereal
  • dried apricots
  • prune juice
  • raisins
  • tofu
  • peas
  • broccoli
  • enriched pasta
  • rice
  • wheat germ
  • dates
  • soybeans
  • molasses
  • potato
  • bagel

Vitamin C Food sources:

  • grapefruit
  • juices
  • oranges
  • cantaloupe
  • tomatoes
  • kiwi
  • pineapple
  • peppers
  • papaya
  • mango
  • most berries
  • cauliflower

Tips:

  • Eat lean beef 2-3 times a week and/or the dark meat of chicken or turkey 3-4 times a week.
  • The redder the beef, the richer it is in iron.
  • Cook in cast-iron skillets.
  • Eat cereal regularly.
  • Coffee and tea can decrease iron absorption. Try to drink them 1 hour before eating or between meals.
  • Do NOT take iron supplements unless recommended by your doctor.
  • Eat Vitamin C rich foods with each meal.
  • Look for "iron enriched" cereals/breads.
  • Choose a daily multivitamin. If you are taking calcium supplements, take the multivitamin at a separate time of the day.

Stephanie Nunes is a Registered Dietician, a competitive runner and the mother of two. She resides in San Luis Obispo, CA.