As avid runners, we are often asked about everything from the best type of shoe to wear, what to eat before a race, and even if we’ve ever peed our pants during a marathon to cut down our finishing time. Well, I’ll address that last question first…NO! Neither of us have allowed a looming PR to take priority over a necessary pit stop and for reasons I won’t address here in this post (mainly chaffing and personal respect), I wouldn’t recommend it.
That being said, one thing clients and friends often ask about is exercise related iron deficiency, or better known (though misleading) as sports anemia. I recently read an article explaining the ins and outs of this condition and thought I’d share some brief facts:
1) Anemia, which can be caused by a number of factors including but not limited to deficiencies in iron, B12, ad folate, can lead to serious organ dysfunction and should be treated by a doctor. Iron is necessary in the synthesis of protein and keep both the immune and nervous systems up and running, so don’t play around if you feel chronically tired, weak, crave ice, have brittle hair and/or nails, or can’t seem to muster motivation for your daily tasks. Seek medical attention.
2) Exercise or sports anemia is not really “anemia” at all. Often seen in endurance athletes, this condition is actually an imbalance of red blood cells to blood plasma (known as hematocrit). Due to increased plasma levels in the blood during exercise (which is actually a good thing as it lowers exercise heart rate, improves temperature regulation, enhances your body’s ability to get blood to working muscles, etc.), your hematocrit levels drop. A diligent diet high in iron can help combat the effects of this imbalance and bring your levels back to normal post exercise.
3) Avid endurance athletes that overtrain or only train in certain ways (ie only endurance based cardio, no weight training, lack of rest, etc.) run the risk of creating a chronic imbalance which could lead to true anemia.
4) Those who are trying to lose weight and train for an endurance event at the same time run the risk of creating chronically depleted iron levels as well. This is why CUTTING calories during training season is not advised and more than likely wouldn’t lead you to lose weight anyway long term. Instead eat clean and smart. Pay attention to your active metabolic rate which takes into account your activity levels and gives you an estimated number of calories to eat each day to support activity, incorporate weight training which will further boost your resting metabolic rate and keep you strong, and say bye bye to overly processed foods that pack a caloric punch without necessary nutrients.
The best way to avoid depleting your iron stores is to eat iron rich foods: fish, chicken, turkey, pork, iron-enriched pastas, whole grains, pinto beans and black-eyed peas, kale, broccoli, and greens; and to pay attention to your body to note “normal” energy levels and if there is a change over time.
Fuel your body, fuel your life, and you’ll find success in both goals! You can train for a marathon, gain muscle, and lose fat all at the same time with proper fuel, rest, and activity.
Information for this blog was gathered from: Understanding Iron Deficiency Anemia and Sports Anemia by Amelia M. Weaver and Len Kravitz, PhD. in IDEA Fitness Journal for ACE Certified Professionals.