Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a role in red blood cell production and carrying oxygen. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout the body. This is why athletes can feel chronic weakness and fatigue if their iron is low. Eating a well balance variety of iron rich foods is best way to ensure you have sufficient
energy on race day. Here are five facts you need to know about iron:
1. Men need to consume about 8 mg iron per day and women need about 18 mg per day. The best way to check your iron status is to visit you primary care provider and get a blood test.
2. Exercise may increase iron requirements. This can be as simple as eating an extra serving of iron rich foods a few times a week.
3. Animal products contain heme iron form and plant foods contain the non-heme iron form. While the non-heme form of iron is less available for the human body, that is actually a good thing because high levels of heme iron have been linked to increased risks of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It is important for blood iron levels not to be too high or too low.
4. Our best sources of iron are whole grains, soybeans, dried fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and lentils. Consuming a vitamin C rich food with iron sources will enhance iron absorption.
5. Try limiting foods that inhibit iron absorption, such as teas, coffee, and wine.
“Iron.” Sports Nutrition: a Handbook for Professionals: Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetics Practice Group, by Christine Karpinski and Christine Rosenbloom, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017, pp. 337–338.