Scientists believe ‘sports anaemia’ could be affecting regular exercisers
Whether you’re a casual weekend gym-goer or a seasoned veteran athlete, you would have no doubt experienced those days when despite a good night’s sleep and proper hydration, you just lack the energy to train or perform at your best. Don’t you just hate days like that?
Well, recent studies show that this could be due to a condition known as ‘sports anaemia,’ which surprisingly affects 50% of female endurance athletes. So what you can do to avoid it and ensure you maintain high energy levels?
Iron’s role within the body
You have around 3.5-4.5g of stored iron in your body with the majority being located in the haemoglobin in the blood and the rest found in the liver, spleen and bone marrow (and a very small amount in the myoglobin which is found in the muscle tissue). It’s mainly used for thyroid hormone metabolism, neural function, immune function, erythropoiesis (the formation of new red blood cells) and one of the most important roles iron plays is as a component of the protein haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s cells. Because one red blood cell contains about 250 million haemoglobin molecules, a higher level of iron can mean a higher aerobic capacity which ultimately means you are better able to perform during training or competition.
Low iron stores
Iron stores can be hard to maintain because the iron absorption from eating a typical Western diet ranges from 10-35%, while following a vegetarian diet has much less iron absorption, from 1-20%. Some foods are higher in iron but keep in mind the absorption rates are still low comparatively speaking. To add to this challenge, scientists have discovered ‘sports anaemia’ – this is essentially where muscle fibres are damaged during intense exercise training, and if there is inadequate protein intake then the body draws upon haemoglobins and red blood cells to repair the muscle. To make things worse, experts believe female athletes are more prone to ‘sports anaemia’ than male athletes since additional blood (and iron) could be lost through menstruation. All in all this is bad news for an athlete’s performance since haemoglobin is integral to our muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Furthermore, reducing the amount of haemoglobin in the blood is going to have a negative effect on energy levels.
Preventing ‘sports anaemia’
The good news is that there are changes you can make to your diet to prevent ‘sports anaemia,’ such as reducing the intake of certain minerals and foods in the diet that are known as ‘iron inhibitors.’ These have been shown to decrease iron absorption in the body and include calcium, zinc (although less so when consumed in a food rather than supplement), phytates and fibre found in whole grains and nuts, tannins found in coffee and tea and soy products. It is also encouraged to include more ‘iron promoters’ in the diet, including meat, fish, poultry, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, green and red peppers and other vitamin C rich foods.
Specific iron measurements
The recommended daily allowance of iron is 15mg for a female aged 11-50, but the requirements of regular gym-goers and athletes are usually slightly higher. That’s why it’s important to pay particular attention to your training intensity, food intake or look to supplement your diet with an iron supplement. Try Complete Iron fromwww.myvitamins.com, which contains 17mg of iron per capsule (£3.49 for 30 capsules), and remember to make an effort to scoff down those iron-rich foods!