Iron in the body is mostly connected to Haemoglobin, which is a protein in blood that carries oxygen from the lungs and transports it to the cells all over the body.
Simultaneously, it takes away carbon dioxide and returns it to the lungs in order to be expelled from the body. Iron is also present in Myoglobin in muscle cells, which also stores oxygen. We lose some from the body every day.
What Does Iron Do?
Iron is crucial for growth and development. It is also crucial in the formation of healthy blood cells. Without sufficient Iron, the body’s ability to carry oxygen around the body will be impaired, and we will feel unhealthy and lacking in energy.
Iron and Exercise
Athletes have an increased chance of becoming low in Iron. The greater demands they place on their body means that they lose more per day than the average person.
If the amount lost exceeds the amount absorbed, then body stores are gradually depleted. The first stage of depletion is known as Iron Deficiency. An athlete will notice a drop off in performance. The next stage is characterised by constant fatigue and is known as Iron Deficiency Anaemia. At this stage all of the body’s stores have been used up.
It is vital for athletes and people who train hard for any reason to get a plentiful supply, either through the diet or through supplementation.
Are You Deficient in Iron?
Symptoms of iron deficiency are:
- pale skin
- high susceptibility to infection
- lack of strength or other decline in exercise performance
Best Sources of Iron
The Iron in food is found in two forms, heme and non-heme. Heme Iron is readily absorbed by the body. It is found in animal flesh foods like red meat, poultry and seafood. It is also plentiful in liver and kidneys.
Non-heme iron is contained in plant foods such as spinach. However, we can only absorb abut 5% of this Iron. This is because the Iron is tightly bound to compounds known as oxalates, which prevents it being absorbed by the intestines. Broccoli is a better iron and calcium choice, as it is low in oxalates.
Other sources are dried fruits such as prunes, apricots, figs, nuts, seeds, seaweed, beans, oats and wheat bran.
To make sure that you get enough in your day, eat vegetables with each meal and fruits sometimes. Eat lean meat three or four times each week, don’t drink coffee and tea with meals and eat your breakfast (Oats, fruits, last nights dinner leftovers) Also, don’t each too much bran – it can reduce Iron absorption.
People who think they may be low should consult their doctor and ask for a blood test to confirm their suspicions. If you are deficient, you will more than likely be prescribed an Iron supplement to boost your levels.
Most supplements provide 5 mg per tablet. Supplementation may cause constipation, so it is important to also eat a high fibre diet.
The Recommended daily Allowance for Iron for males between the ages of 19 and 50 is 8 mg per day. For females it is 18 mg per day. For those over 50, it is 8mg for both males and females.