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Iron Rich Foods

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As a runner, I have experienced low energy and learned after seeing my doctor I was iron deficient. 

To improve my health I started fueling my body with iron rich foods as getting enough iron helps sustain performance.

Kara Marshall, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator whose work focuses on plant-based diets, blood glucose management, heart health, and sports performance shared her expert advice on getting enough Iron and Vitamin D via our email interview.

Kara explains the importance of iron thusly:  “Iron is essential for oxygen transportation and energy production in the body and therefore is a nutrient of importance for all athletes. When it comes to iron status and runners, I encourage my clients to have their levels checked on a somewhat regular basis and when they feel symptomatic to ensure that their health and performance is not being compromised.”

She continues, “Low iron levels can leave you feeling tired and weak and can negatively affect performance. Suboptimal iron levels can result from inadequate intakes of iron rich foods, inadequate intakes of energy (calories), menstrual losses in female athletes, and losses from the gut, sweat, and urine. For runners, iron can also be lost through foot-strike hemolysis. Foot strike hemolysis occurs when red blood cells in the small vessels in the soles of the feet burst from repetitive pavement pounding.”

For runners to ensure they are maintaining adequate iron levels, Marshall recommends to have their family physician check a complete blood cell count, ferritin, and iron panel if they feel symptomatic of iron deficiency and to ensure they are eating a diet adequate in iron. 

Marshall listed good sources of iron, including: meat, eggs, seafood like oysters and clams, fish like sardines, tuna and trout, fortified cereals, soybeans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, red kidney beans, blackstrap molasses, and cooked spinach, tofu.

She continues, “Pair their iron rich foods with a source of vitamin C for enhanced absorption. Foods like citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts all work well. As excessive iron intakes can be associated with iron overload, I do not recommend supplements without blood work. Anyone wondering if a supplement is right for them is advised to (consult) their family physician or a registered dietitian.”

Marshall believes taking a particular vitamin can help to alleviate an iron deficiency, saying, “I commonly advise my clients to take for health and performance vitamin D. While vitamin D is well known for its role in bone health, in more recent years it has also been found to influence other systems in our body. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk for acute illness, inflammatory injuries, stress fractures, muscle pain and weakness, and suboptimal athletic performance,” she says.

She adds, “I recommend vitamin D as a supplement because it is only found in a handful of foods natural and fortified, and it is difficult to maintain sufficient vitamin D status from food sources alone. 

People can technically meet their vitamin D requirement through synthesis in the skin; however, this may not be appropriate in view of potential damage to skin from UV radiation.  

Current recommendations from the Canadian Dermatology Association recommend protecting the skin with hats and clothes, planning activities in the shade, using a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher and limiting sun exposure in the middle of the day (the exact time you need to be exposing your skin for vitamin D synthesis).

Vitamin D requirements as advised by Health Canada are as follows:

Individuals aged 1-70 years are advised to take 600IU of vitamin D per day and individuals aged greater than 70 are advised to take 800IU per day. Health Canada specifically recommends that individuals aged 50 and older take 400IU of vitamin D daily.

 If you are unsure if a vitamin D supplement is right for you, I suggest talking to your family physician or a registered dietitian.”

Our weekly Fitness Friday Feature is submitted by Christine Blanchette who you can follow on Twitter and her Youtube Channel.

Enjoy the weekend and Stay Safe!!