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February 28, 2011

Pumping Iron In Your Diet

Written by Dena Evans

 

 

romanticlifestyleironrich3Not much frustrates a runner more than putting in a ton of work in training only to find oneself unable to produce the desired result.    Many of us fear this scenario in connection to a potential injury, but another crucial area in which we may fail to give ourselves the best shot is with our diet and nutritional habits.

 

There are many factors involved in formulating a solid diet and nutrition plan that will power you to your next running goal.  In previous columns, we have touched on the importance of hydration and race weekend fueling.    This month, we wanted to touch on the topic of the role an iron-rich diet can play in helping you succeed in training and on the big day.

 

Simply put, iron helps carry oxygen to our muscles via the bloodstream.  It is the binding agent that allows the oxygen molecules to go for a ride from our lungs to our arms and legs, our brain, and our immune system.  All that belly breathing we talked about in last month’s column would go for naught if we didn’t have iron to help make the connection between those deep breaths and the cells that need the air to keep you on pace.

 

A normal day for anyone will include iron loss through bodily fluids (with more for women during menstruation), and the demands avid endurance athletes put on their bodies can hasten these losses.    If you have ever felt repeatedly tired over a length of time, without other explanation and on runs that previously were no problem, or if your hands and eyelids have been noticeably more pale than usual, you might want to consider consulting your physician about the possibility of checking your iron levels with a quick blood test.

 

However, to give yourself a good chance of avoiding that iron deficient state, or Anemia, in the first place, we encourage you to incorporate foods into your diet that will help you add iron on a regular basis.    Lean red meat, salmon, tuna, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, along with lentils, beans, and nuts, are great sources of iron.  Iron is absorbed very effectively when consumed concurrently with foods rich in vitamin C, so bring on the berries and orange juice.  Calcium makes it tougher for you to absorb iron, so save that glass of milk or slice of cheese for a different time of day if you are actively trying to consume a food for its iron content.  Likewise for coffee and tea, both of which also hinder the absorption process.  We encourage you to consult your physician on any drastic individual dietary choice you make, but the Food and Drug Administration’s Daily Value recommended for dietary iron consumption is 18mg.

 

Some runners enjoy the calorie-burning benefit running provides, allowing them the dietary flexibility of a higher metabolism.  Others incorporate running into an overall weight loss effort that includes a systematic effort to eat less.  Either way, if you are in it for the “long run” or maybe even several “long runs” it is important to include iron rich foods to make sure you are able to take advantage of all your hard work.

Last modified on October 04, 2012
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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