The Importance of Iron Supplements for Runners

15th September 2019
What does an iron deficiency mean for an athlete? In practice, an iron deficiency translates into an important decrease in the athlete's performance. In these cases, taking iron supplements might be a good idea to compensate.

An iron deficiency is synonymous with poor running performance. When faced with this situation, the human body must make a bigger effort to maintain high oxygen levels. By taking the right iron supplements, we can get positive results that directly impact on our competitive performance. Iron supplements also help to increase the production of red blood cells.

To be in an optimal fitness condition, an athlete must have a consistent and strict training routine. However, a balanced and complete diet is another indispensable requirement. Your diet must ensure that the levels of hemoglobin in your blood are high enough to resist intense training sessions.

Taking the right supplements is fundamental in any discipline. However, in high-impact sports such as running, it’s even more important because they demand a lot from your body.

One of the main causes for an iron deficiency is the fact that when we work out, the greater our physical effort is, the more iron and vitamins our bodies will consume. The consequence of this phenomenon is an elevated loss of this component because the activity we practice requires a lot of iron. It can also lead to a blockage that inhibits our body from absorbing this nutrient correctly.

Iron: a vital nutrient

The tasks that iron fulfills in the functioning of our bodies are a big deal. This mineral has a high impact on the levels of oxygenation in the body.

Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the vehicle of oxygen in the bloodstream. It also intervenes in cellular breathing and in the toning process of our muscles.

What would be the right way to take iron supplements?

Taking iron supplements involves many formulas that state that we should consume at least 100 mg of iron in ferrous sulfate or alternatively, in gluconate.

Preferably, we should take iron on an empty stomach along with a glass of orange, kiwi or lime juice. Don’t forget that citric fruits also provide your body with high amounts of vitamin C.

A woman feeling tired after running due to a possible iron deficiency

Doctors usually recommend taking iron supplements for three to four months, whether that’s in the form of pills or in liquid solutions. After this period, it’s important to get all the pertinent lab tests to verify your blood iron levels.

It’s also very important to evaluate if the treatment was effective and if you overcame the crisis. If you didn’t, you may need to maintain your dietary supplement program for a bit longer.

Iron supplements don’t substitute a good dietary regime

The main causes of anemia in the world are low iron levels in the blood. Along with the supplements that a specialist prescribes, high-performance athletes must incorporate specific foods into their diets.

Among the recommended foods we can find lean meats, clams, fish, spinach, liver, whole-wheat bread, cereals, legumes, and sesame.

On top of the juices we mentioned before, it’s also a good idea to eat yogurt, and to add lemon and vinegar to our raw salads. All of these ingredients facilitate the absorption of the iron that we find in cereals.

While there are mandatory elements in an iron-rich menu, there are other foods that we should try to avoid as much as possible. They’re ingredients that make the assimilation process of this mineral a lot harder for our bodies. The list includes coffee, tea, red wine, and soy. The same thing happens with sesame seeds, pecans, and peanuts.

Iron deficiency in female athletes

For women who practice any sports activity for fun or professionally, an iron deficiency can turn into a recurrent issue. This situation can be more severe during menstruation because women lose an important amount of vitamins and other minerals during these periods.

Therefore, taking iron supplements is a common practice for female runners. For many of these athletes, it’s the only way to maintain their high frequency of physical activity without suffering from important imbalances.

Woman biting into a dark green leaf to get enough iron

Always alert

It’s important to keep iron levels under control, even in the case of athletes who watch what they eat carefully. It’s also important for patients who frequently consume dietary supplements because a doctor instructed them to do so. In many cases and situations, we can develop an important deficit of this element.

That’s why runners and anyone who practices highly demanding physical activities regularly must have their blood tested several times a year. The purpose of these check-ups would be to avoid imbalances in the metabolism (not just iron deficiencies) and prevent real complications.

  • National Institute of Health. 2014. Datos sobre el hierro. Extraído de: https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/Iron-DatosEnEspanol.pdf
  • Rosa María Martínez Pérez. 2008. El metabolismo del hierro. Extraído de: https://archivos.csif.es/archivos/andalucia/ensenanza/revistas/csicsif/revista/pdf/Numero_3/Metabolismo%20del%20hierro%20en%20Educacion%20Fisica_rosamariamartinezperez.pdf
  • María Ximena Rodríguez Monzón, Alberto Pasquetti Ceccatelli. 2004. Micronutrientes en deportistas. Extraído de: http://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/endoc/er-2004/er044b.pdf