Why is iron important for active exercisers?
Iron is used by the body’s muscles to help produce energy. Therefore, active exercisers who enjoy endurance exercise (e.g. running, rowing, cycling) need iron to maintain and support energy.
Iron contributes to oxygen transport in the blood. Therefore, maintaining optimal iron levels may result in increased aerobic capacity and all-round performance.
Iron also contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, cognitive function, normal immune function and the formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin.
Iron can be lost in several ways during exercise:
- Sweat – exercisers have higher sweat rates than sedentary people, which can lead to higher iron losses.
- Foot strike during running, can result in lower iron due to damage done to red blood cells.
Can I always get enough iron from my food if I’m an active exerciser?
You can get iron from food but it may not be absorbed well, and it may not be sufficient to meet your requirements if you are an active exerciser.
There are two types of iron found in the diet, non-heme and heme. Non-heme iron is found in plants, nuts and legumes. This is absorbed at a much lower rate than heme iron, which is found in animal products such as meat, especially red meat.
It’s important to remember that even if you are making a conscious effort to ingest more heme iron, by eating meat, most health authorities recommend a safe upper intake of only 500g of red meat per week. Also, other daily habits like drinking tea and coffee after your meals can reduce iron absorption and reduce your iron intake.