Iron Supplement Seems to Enhance Female Athletic Performance

Women need more iron than men.  Although it is ideal to get all your iron need from food, you may need to rely on iron supplements.

Women need more iron than men. Although it is ideal to get all your iron need from food, you may need to rely on iron supplements.

It is well known that many women are anemic, mainly due to iron deficiency partially due to the monthly cycle. That is why it is very important to take a blood test regularly to monitor iron level in your body. It seems that many people don’t realize that they are iron deficiency or at the borderline, even among health conscious top female athletes. In general, about 25% of women are iron deficiency.

According to University of Melbourne study, female athletes who are given iron supplement improved their performance significantly. Even among ordinary women, the iron supplement increased the productivity at work. It seems a good thing to increase amount of iron intake, if you are a woman.

In daily life, probably most women don’t feel that they have the problem, but during the workout, you may notice the iron deficiency more acutely. For example, if you feel like that your athletic performance stopped improving or you get out of breath much easier than you used to be, your iron level could be low. Some women even get light headedness during the workout. All these are because not enough oxygen is provided to the body due to the anemic condition.

If you feel like you are anemic, first, visit your doctor and take a blood test to see the iron level. Don’t assume that you have one, even though it is probable. There are many causes to create these conditions and if you misdiagnose it, it could be fatal!

The top ten natural iron sources are:

  • Red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards)
  • Dried fruit (prunes, raisins)
  • Iron-enriched cereals and grains (check the labels)
  • Mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops)
  • Turkey or chicken giblets
  • Beans, lentils, chick peas and soybeans
  • Liver
  • Artichokes

Red meat and liver are the best source of iron as they keep iron in hemo-iron form which is easy to absorb into the body. Of course, eating large amount of red meat is not good (see previous articles), but the benefit may out-weight after the period.

Iron from leafy greens are actually very difficult to absorb. To supple the full dose of iron you need, you need to eat a few pounds of spinach a day! So yes, you should eat them regularly, but don’t think that you are getting enough iron from them.

Another source of iron is actually a cooking pan. An old iron cooking pan is a good source of iron. I don’t know whether the none-sticking pan does the same (probably not), but the cooking in the iron pan does give you quite a bit of iron.

If you are a vegetarian or you feel like you are not getting enough iron from food, you may need to rely on supplements. If you are in this category, you need to discuss the matter with your doctor or a nutritionist, but National Institute of Health (NIH) gives you some guide line: NIH Iron Supplement Fact Sheet.

If you are a man, don’t worry about the iron supplement. In fact, some men have too much of the iron and get a bad side effect: Hemochromatosis which potentially can kill you. Since most men don’t have any symptoms from this, again, the blood fast is important. When you take a multivitamin supplement, get the version says “no-iron”. Many vitamin makers these days create vitamin supplement for men and women separately. Always get the man’s version.

If you are a woman after the menopause, you don’t need that much iron anymore and need to reduce the amount of the iron, too.

Benefits Physical Performance in Women of Reproductive Age: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Nutrition, 2014
Are Serum Hepcidin Levels Chronically Elevated in Collegiate Female Distance Runners? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, November 2013

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