Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies amongst populations in both high and low income countries. Athletes are especially at risk of developing iron deficiency as their bodies demand more oxygen. They therefore require higher levels of iron. Female athletes are especially at risk of iron deficiency.
Why female athletes are at risk: Iron is a necessary mineral for ensuring optimal function of various processes in the body. It is especially important for the transport of oxygen. This makes it vital for optimal athletic performance as well as general health. Iron requirements for female athletes increase due to high cell turnover, tissue repair as well as increased blood volumes. However, they are also a great risk of low iron levels because of:
- Blood loss during their menstrual cycle
- Restrictions in food intake
- Severe practices for weight loss
- Consuming vegan or vegetarian diets and avoiding animal products
- Child bearing
Female athletes that experience heavy menstruation, are vegetarians or participate in endurance sports are especially at high risk of developing iron deficiency.
Avoiding iron deficiency: Iron deficiency can have a negative impact on the performance of female athletes. Iron deficiency can leave you feeling tired, fatigued, light headed and cause loss of appetite. You may not have the energy to exercise as hard as you normally would have. You therefore aren’t likely to see the improvements in performance that you would have if you were able to train at optimum efficiency.
If you want to ensure optimum performance, it is important to pay attention to your iron intake. Iron is not produced in the body, but it is stored in the body. It is important to see a doctor if you suspect that you have an iron deficiency. Your doctor will run tests to determine your iron levels and advise you on the best steps to take to improve your iron levels.
You can increase your body’s iron levels by ingesting foods that are rich in iron. These include foods such as fish, poultry, red meat, lentils, dried beans, whole grains, peas, nuts and seeds. Increasing your dietary intake alone however, may not be sufficient. Your doctor may suggest taking iron supplements for women.
Taking iron supplements helps ensures that you meet your body’s daily requirement for iron. It is an easy way to get in your iron and take out all the guesswork. Iron supplements will increase your iron levels much faster than if you were fully dependent on dietary iron. Your doctor will advise you on the appropriate dosage to help you meet your goals.
Try liposomal iron: Some conventional iron supplements can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Taking a liposomal iron supplement may help you avoid the adverse effects of oral iron supplements. These supplements feature liposomes. These are spherical phospholipid structures. Iron is encapsulated within the liposome. The liposome protects the iron from digestion and delivers it safely to the small intestine for absorption. The liposome has a structure similar to the basic structure of the cell membrane of the cells of the body. The liposomes assimilate with the cell membrane and deposit the iron within the cells.
Liposomal iron is considered a gentle iron supplement. These supplements don’t cause irritation to the gut. They are also thought to provide greater bioavailability due to their mechanism of action. This means your body will absorb higher levels of iron from a single dose in comparison to conventional oral iron supplements.
If you’re a female athlete, it is important to pay attention to your micronutrient intake. Be sure to consult a doctor prior to taking iron supplements.