By Dr Julia Gonen
Firstly, I wanted to congratulate everyone that finished our 14-day detox last month! People who had the goal of kicking off some extra pounds were successful and lost an average of 6-7 pounds in 2 weeks and found motivation to make a few small changes for the long term. I got some great feedback that everyone enjoyed the delicious and nutritious recipes and tried some new cooking techniques. It’s so wonderful to have a caring, sharing, supportive and motivating community here at Solid Ground.
Next, I wanted to talk to you about iron, and not the kind we are pumping at the gym, but rather the essential mineral we need in order to form hemoglobin to bring oxygen to our cells.
We are now well into spring and Coach Justin began adding running into our WODs, some of us run with the Lululemon run club, either gain some free Lulu stuff and/or to train for a 5k, a 10k, a half or even full marathon (me, I started running to train for Tough Mudder (22k) in August since I’ve previously despised running and decided I must love it!). Some people are even running with weighted vests to get ready for Murph (the hero WOD) which we will do on June 24th at the annual Heroes for Heroes charity event.
What does this have to do with iron? Have you ever heard of foot strike hemolysis? When we run, especially on pavement, the impact causes red blood cells to be broken down (lysed) and iron is then released. Depending on other factors this can eventually cause deficiency of iron and if left untreated possibly anemia (low hemoglobin). This reduces our ability to carry enough oxygen to tissues and can impair performance.
In Crossfit we don’t only strike our feet during running, but also during box jumps, burpees, double-unders, in barbell cycling WODs and jumping up and down to the bar for pull-ups, muscle ups and toes to bar. Overall there seems to be quite a bit of impact during Crossfit that can cause lysis of our red blood cells and loss of Iron. Add this to running and tennis over the summer and you could be on a slow path of Iron depletion.
Iron recommendations are almost 1.5 - 2 times higher for athletes than the general population. This is because we also lose iron during exercise through our sweat and urine, via micro-bleeds in our stomach (which we get each time we take anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs), small bleeds in our internal organs induced by any exercise especially higher intensity workouts, micro tears in our muscle fibres that causes oxidative stress, and due to inflammation which can inhibit Iron absorption.
Women and vegetarians are at higher risk of iron deficiency for obvious reasons (monthly bleeds aka menstruation, and/or not consuming enough meat). Caloric restriction (aka dieting) also puts you at higher risk of iron deficiency because the amount of food intake is less therefore, Iron intake will also be less than adequate. Men can also become Iron deficient especially if they train at higher volumes and intensities, take regular NSAID medications and are gaining muscle (Iron is needed more during growth). This is a process that occurs over time.
Having said this, please DO NOT just go and take some iron. More is not better when it comes to Iron. Iron is actually quite toxic and can cause oxidative damage if too much is taken or if it is taken when you don’t need it. Always consult a medical professional and test first. I’m suggesting that you get your blood checked at every 12 months or more often depending on your type and volume of training. I can order basic blood work for this (CBC - complete blood count and ferritin levels) or you can go ask your family doctor to order it. Don’t only depend on what your doctor says is normal, always get a copy for yourself to go over (most labs you can obtain your own results within 24-48 hours). I’d be happy to help you interpret any results. Optimal blood levels for athletes differ than an average population.
Symptoms of iron deficiency or anemia may include shortness of breath during exercise, nausea, feeling less motivated to train, rapid heart rate, decreased endurance, fatigue, irritability, higher frequency of infections (getting sick more often), headaches, and eventually a pale appearance.
A proper diet is essential to avert iron deficiency or anemia. Foods high in Vitamin C will aide in the absorption of iron and include peppers, tomatoes, citrus, strawberries, kiwi etc. Heme-iron rich foods include red meats, liver, other meat and animal products which are most easily absorbed. Vegetarian or non-heme Iron sources includes leafy green vegetables (cooked is better), legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Polyphenols found in tea can inhibit iron absorption so don’t drink tea when you are eating meat. Avoid eating meat and milk together as well, since Calcium and Iron compete for absorption. This is the leading cause of iron deficiency in children who often ingest high amounts of dairy and milk.
If you are Iron deficient or become anemic and need to supplement, I usually recommend a heme source of Iron (animal sourced) which we carry at the gym. It increases Iron levels more rapidly than a mineral form of Iron.
If you have any questions or want to discuss nutrition, supplements, health concerns or for acupuncture book an appointment to see me. Otherwise I’ll see you on the run!