An Iron supplement can be a necessity for serious runners.
After my last big race, the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon in June, my body felt depleted. I had been feeling lethargic running long distances, and even though I was in good shape, it didn’t feel like I had my usual kick. In fact, it felt like there were cinder blocks on my feet. When 5km starts to feel like 30km, it can be quite discouraging. After talking to my coach, it turned out I was way short on iron.
Now I am not traditionally a big believer in supplements. I believe in getting nutrients through real, healthy food wherever possible. I was initially very nervous about taking iron supplements because iron at high levels can be toxic. That’s not a risk with taking small doses of supplements, but it was something I wasn’t used to.
As it turns out, studies have shown that most runners are iron-deficient.
As I researched the subject, I learned some interesting facts about running and iron, especially for women.
Iron is necessary for transfer of oxygen.
Aerobic exercise requires transfer of oxygen to the muscles in large amounts. Your red blood cells require iron to carry oxygen in the bloodstream. If you lack iron, your cells will not work as efficiently.
You can lose iron through the feet.
It’s called foot strike hemolysis. When your foot strikes the ground, red blood cells can break apart, and release hemoglobin. This is the protein crucial to oxygen transfer. Over long periods of striking the feet, iron stores can quickly start to drop.
Women are especially susceptible to iron deficiency.
Every 28 days, we lose a little more iron.
Before taking a supplement, I think it’s very important to make sure you are maximizing your iron levels through the right kinds of foods. This means lots of leafy greens like kale and spinach, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and whole-grain carbs.
Then be sure to get your iron levels checked by your doctor. Not just hemoglobin, but ferratin levels as well. After that, if you are showing an iron deficiency, there are some options for supplements.
Tablet or Powder?
I started using a powder and I felt some terrible stomach cramps. I took it a few times but each time I did, it felt like I was getting punched in the gut. It turns out that tablets were a better choice for me, as I have not felt any ill-effects when taking them. I think both methods are probably ok, but you need to try which format works the best for your body.
Runners need iron. Iron-ically (pun intended), we are some of the most susceptible to iron deficiency. It’s important to understand how our bodies burn through it, and what we can do to keep our levels up. If we do, we can keep that spring in our step as we pound the pavement.