Anemia can explain blood disorders found in a variety of different ages and populations. For example, how is it that it can accurately explain the medical status of a senior citizen, an infant, and an olympian? The answer is the disorder develops for several different reasons. The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines anemia as a set of blood disorders with reduced numbers of red blood cells, reduced hemoglobin, or reduced number of volume packed red blood cells (referred to as hematocrit). In the case of reduced hemoglobin ( a protein carried by red blood cells), it is an indication of reduced iron, and therefore known as iron deficiency anemia. Hemoglobin’s role is to transport oxygen to the blood. Similar to hemoglobin, myoglobin is a muscle protein with a similar role- carry oxygen to working muscles. Therefore, you can understand why iron’s role in exercise metabolism is essential. A true iron deficiency will impair exercise performance. No oxygen= no energy.
Why are Athletes and Active People Susceptible To Iron Deficiencies
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States. According to Monique Ryan, MS, RD/LDN, CSSD in The Endurance Athletes it is estimated that 22-25% of female athletes are iron-deficient , and 80% of the females with a deficiency are endurance athletes. That being said, the deficiency still exists in men, especially in Florida due to the mineral being lost through sweat.
-Florida’s warm climates and severe humidity can cause for greater losses in sweat
-Impact such as pounding heels on pavement and other mechanical trauma can accelerate red blood cell destruction
-Athletes often engage in restrictive diets or may have food preferences that reduce iron intake. Iron deficiency can be associated with low-calorie diets, diets that exclude or limit meat, and various fad/ unbalanced diets
-Women with inadequate intake who are menstruating are at increased risk for deficiency
Signs and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
-Fatigue accompanied feelings of tiredness and weakness
-Intolerance to exercise
For example: Feeling short of breath or lethargic during exercise
-Difficulty maintaining body temperature
-Decreased immune function
-Spooning of finger nails
It is controversial, however many researchers have concluded that iron deficiencies can lead to a condition called pica. Pica is characterized by the appetite for nonnutritive substances such as ice, dirt, or clay.
Knowing Your Iron Numbers
If you are an athlete, or active individual it is recommend checking your hemoglobin, hematocrit, and ferritin ( body’s storage of iron) when you get check-ups. If you know you have a past history of anemia or are at higher risk, you may want to monitor these levels more regularly. However, try not to self diagnose or attempt to treat your own low iron levels. Excess iron supplementation is it’s own can of worms and can be more damaging than the deficiency itself ( particularly on cardiovascular system). Also, too much supplementation puts you at risk for GI disturbances.
Nutrition For the Prevention and Treatment of Iron Deficiency
If your blood work is evaluated by a physician and an iron deficiency is diagnosed, it is best to work with a physician or registered dietitians on how to replenish your iron stores. It is obtained from food in two forms, heme and nonheme iron. Heme iron is the form found in animal foods and is absorbed at a 15-35% rate . Good sources include beef, oysters, clams, turkey (dark meat) , chicken (leg meat), and tuna (fresh bluefin). On the contrary, nonheme iron is absorbed at a 2-20% rate, and good sources include fortified cereals, soybeans, lentils, beans, and nuts. Nutrients such as Vitamin C enhance absorption of non heme iron sources. A good example of this is fortified cereal paired with a glass of orange juice. Also, heme iron paired with nonheme iron can promote the absorption of the nonheme (National Institute of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements).
Certain phytonutrients such as oxalic acid (found in spinach, strawberries, cocoa), tannins ( found in teas), phytates (found in whole grains and legumes), and polyphenols may inhibit the absorption of nonheme iron . However, it is more important to focus on increasing the consumption of foods that increase nonheme absorption. Also, calcium may be an iron absorption inhibitor. While there is controversy over this interaction, in presence of an iron deficiency it is recommended spacing out the consumption of large amounts of calcium (greater than 300 mg) and iron. If you are using iron supplementation, it may be most beneficial to avoid multivitamins and supplements containing calcium.
Iron is an essential nutrient connected to performance and an active lifestyle. Being a female, living in a warm and humid climate, engaging in activities with repetitive impact, and eliminating major iron sources are all characteristics that may place an individual at risk for an iron deficiency. As the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest, it is optimal to reach the majority of nutrients through dietary intake alone when possible. Particular diets and situations may require the addition of fortified foods and supplements. Prior to implementing an iron supplement, it is recommended to use lab work though your physician to determine if you have a true deficiency. Eating a balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and lean protein will promote overall wellness and decrease the chance for dietary deficiencies.
”What Is Anemia?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 May 2012. Web. 16 May 2017.
3. Ryan, Monique. Sports nutrition for endurance athletes. Boulder, CO: Velo, 2012. Print
4. “Office of Dietary Supplements – Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 28 May 2017
Iron Rich Zucchini Boats
Serving size: 4
1 ground beef
1 red pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
1/4 cup onions
1/4 cup parsley
optional toppings: cheese of choice
can also substitute beef with navy beans, black beans, or red beans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut off ends of zucchini. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out pulp.
In a skillet, cook beef, pepper, and onions. Add diced tomatoes last. Cook until meat loses pinkness, but not too brown.
Put ingredients from skillet into zucchini shells. Place into baking dish.
Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes. Boats are done when zucchini shells are tender.