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How can iron depletion affect your athletic performance?

red meat


Did you know that iron deficiency is more likely to happen in athletes, especially female athletes? People that have Iron deficiency, do not only have weaker immune system that often leads to many physiologic dysfunctions, but have also a decreased athletic performance in almost 30 percent!



What is iron deficiency and how it happens?


Iron deficiency is the number one most common nutrient deficiency that affects more than 15 percent of people around the world. Iron deficiency is also the medical term of anemia. When someone has an Iron deficiency that means the body’s Iron stores have become depleted and Iron supply to several of tissues becomes very apparent.  The first, clear effect of iron deficiency is the reduction of the oxygen transportation and also a reduction in the oxidative capacity of our cellular level of properly functioning.


There are two types of iron that we can found in foods. The first one is heme and the second, non-heme. The first one is the one that our body absorbs more quickly and efficiently. we can find Iron in animal sources such as chicken, beef, fish, shrimp, oysters etc. The seconds type, non-heme, has a much lower absorption rate and it can be mostly found in vegetables, beans, tofu and cereals.



The role of iron


The first, most important role of Iron is to be an important component of the hemoglobin protein which is responsible for carrying the oxygen from our lungs to the body cells. Since just one red blood cell contains more than 250 million molecules of hemoglobin, the effect a higher level of iron into our blood has to our athletic performance, is extremely high!


You see, Iron has many critical functions in our body. They include neural function, immune function, formation of new red blood cells, mitochondrial oxidative enzymes, thyroid hormone function etc.



Symptoms of Iron deficiency in athletes


The first, most common sign iron deficiency has, is the anemia, a fatigue that worsens during physical activity and especially HIIT training routines. Even though fatigue is very common in athletes, there are many different reasons that can potentially cause it. For example different nutritional imbalances and stress. Iron deficiency is one of the most common reasons. The following are some additional symptoms Iron deficiency brings:


Decreases athletic performance

Decreases general physical performance

Increased need of sleep

Constant fatigue

Low body temperature

Immune function decrease



Why athletes should never neglect iron deficiency?


There are many reasons why athletes are at a higher risk to suffer from iron deficiency than other people. The first reason it’s because their body needs a significantly higher amount of Iron. This, since the red blood cell’s mass increases.  And also, because their body needs more iron when is in growing period of time (muscle growing etc. )


Also, athletes have an increased risk of Iron loss since a considerable amount of Iron is lost through sweat. Another reason why the necessary Iron might be lost in athletes, is because of the gastrointestinal bleeding symptom. Gastrointestinal bleeding is especially common during a strenuous exercise.


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