Up until recently I have been really struggling with my running. I really noticed it this year when I was training for a marathon; I would literally be so exhausted, and having 12 hours sleep most evenings. When running, I felt like I had absolutely nothing left in the tank and was always short of breath. I was also training more, but wasn’t ever improving – I just couldn’t understand it. Girls I ran with at the club were suddenly overtaking me at Parkrun’s and I would be scratching my head wondering why this was happening.
One fateful day, the lovely Nick Anderson from the Company ‘Running with us’ paid a visit to my club. Nick spoke a little bit about iron and a light bulb went off in my head. I bravely approached Nick at the end of his presentation and presented him with my dilemma – I think it went something like this ‘Seriously Nick, am I too old for this shit?’ Nick laughed and explained that as I had only been running for 3 years, I hadn’t even hit my peak with my running- regardless that I was a ‘senior’ runner. Nick pretty much said that he thought I was iron deficient and said I should call the GP for a blood test. He also said I was sleeping and eating like a teenager, but moving on…. I got home and researched how on earth iron would help me improve and was startled to learn that the red blood cells are transporting oxygen to your working muscles when you run – basically if you have low iron levels, you generate fewer red blood cells and your hemoglobin levels decline – hence less oxygen to your muscles – hampering performance, or in layman’s terms – leaving you bloody knackered. Trying to improve with low iron would be like trying to flog a dead horse.
Iron deficiency in female runners is very common. In a 2000 study, 26 per cent of 126 female endurance athletes were iron deficient. (Source – Women’s Running Magazine, 2017). Shocking stuff!
I also learnt that runners are losing iron all the time and it needs to be replaced. This is through;
Through your Feet! Yep, crazy huh? When your foot strikes the floor red blood cells are damaged which reduce your hemolysis levels.
Sweating – I’m not a lady who ‘glows’ and ‘glistens’. Apparently, the amount of iron loss isn’t huge, although if it’s hot and humid, the iron losses can add up
Through the Intestines – a problem for most athletes.
Female ‘time of the month’ – For obvious reasons
Nutrition – If you aren’t stocking up on your iron enriched foods, this is going to have a massive effect on your iron levels. I am not a massive red meat eater- I just hate the smell and the taste. Foods high in iron are green leafy veg, dried fruit, whole grain cereals / bread, egg yolk, lean red meat, lentils and chickpeas.
My GP provided me with a blood test to check my ferritin levels (iron stores) and they were at 17mcg/L. An athlete’s ferritin levels should be much higher than this – obviously these levels are different for males and females. An ideal score should be above 50mcg/L. The Doctor did confirm that my score was really low and was surprised that I was able to train and run a marathon with such a low ferritin score. The Doctor prescribed some high dose iron tablets (Ferrous Sulphate 200mg) which had a really interesting effect on my stomach. My doctor then placed me on Ferrous Fumarate which are gentler on the gut. I am still having issues with the tablets and have had to adjust the time I take them to ensure no awkward moments. I have been taking my tablets with a glass of orange juice and a Vit C tablet to aid the absorption.
Since taking the tablets, I must say, my running has really improved and I’m feeling amazing. I am also not having a nap at my desk at 3pm. I have been obtaining more PB’s and have even gone up a group at run club! I am also craving less sugar as I am not as tired.
It’s important to say that I am not a medical expect in any way shape or form, but I think it is important that people know how a lack of iron can influence your sports performance.
May your miles be long and your injuries few.