Why Do Athletes Need More Iron than the Average Person?

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Why is Iron Important?

Iron is a vital element within the human body. It’s responsible for many necessary functions, primarily through its role in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the compound within blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Athletes tend to use significantly more oxygen than the average person, and they also lose iron at a faster rate. It’s been estimated that athletes need somewhere between 1.3 and 1.7 times the amount of dietary iron than non-athletes, or they could experience iron deficiency. Iron has a whole range of functions in a healthy body, which include:

  • Oxygen Transportation
  • RBC (Red Blood Cell) Production
  • Cellular Energetic Release
  • Immune System Efficiency

Iron Deficiency

Without enough iron in your system, you’ll start to notice a dip in your concentration and energy. You may become irritable and tired as well, due to the lack of oxygen reaching the brain. Iron deficiency happens after a slow process of culminating issues, like poor diet and excessive exercise. You may notice general fatigue, disinterest, and even depression.

Athletes at Risk

Athletes not only require more oxygen during their intense exercise sessions, but they also lose more iron through sweat. More red blood cells must be produced to handle to oxygen requirements, and they need iron to function. The simple act of running on a hard surface can cause excessive RBC death, meaning the body has to work harder to produce more, while still carrying heavy oxygen loads. Athletes will often take anti-inflammatory drugs after an exercise session to reduce joint swelling, and those drugs cause iron depletion.

Dietary Iron

Athletes need to pay especially close attention to the things they eat. A diet that includes a proper source of iron is sure to keep an athlete from experiencing any of the symptoms of deficiency, and it will optimize the affects of every workout. Diets that include a variety of lean red meats, seafood, and poultry will certainly boost your blood iron levels, and the dedicated athlete should find several other iron-rich foods to supplement those proteins. For most, too much dietary iron is not a problem, since the body is incapable of absorbing more than it needs. However, there is a small percentage of Caucasians who carry a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis that allows for excessive iron to be absorbed. Athletes who consciously consume enough iron are much more likely to remain in premium physical condition.

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