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Iron Deficiency – Is it making your CrossFit workouts harder?

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If you are finding that your CrossFit workouts are getting harder and harder, you seem continually short of breath, your finding it hard to focus or you feel your fitness has dropped off even though your training hasn’t then there may be a simple answer to your problem, you may have an iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency is more common than you may think and it is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide. In my 15 years as a personal trainer and lifestyle coach its a problem I have seen a lot. The good news is that if it is identified and detected early it can be relatively easy to correct.

What Is Iron Deficiency?

Iron stores are needed in the body and are essential for optimal health and function of both the body and mind. Iron deficiency is a result of iron stores becoming depleted due to the body using more iron than it is absorbing on a daily basis. There are three common reasons for iron stores becoming depleted in the body and they are either through blood loss, not getting enough iron in your diet or the body having poor absorption of iron.

Why Is Iron Important?

Iron is involved in various functions throughout the body but it is primarily needed for oxygen transportation. Oxygen is a necessity for the body to survive and you only need to starve it of oxygen for a few minutes by holding your breath to see how important it is. If oxygen transportation is effected then it will result in general fatigue, tiredness and decreased immunity.
Here are some symptoms you may experience if you have an Iron deficiency:

  • Feel fatigued/lethargic
  • Shortness of breath
  • Getting dizzy and light headed
  • Your getting sick easily
  • Having trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Having trouble remembering things or concentrating
  • Find that your performance at work has decreased
  • Find that you’re CrossFit or workouts seem more difficult than they use to be?

What Causes Iron Deficiency?

Blood Loss: If your losing blood then you are losing iron and one of the most common forms of blood loss is through heavy menstrual periods. This is one of the reasons iron deficiency is common in women. Other forms of blood loss can be through pregnancy due to the increased need, donations, operations or gastrointestinal conditions or disease.

Poor Diet or Poor Absorption : If you are losing iron due to poor nutrition then you are going to have to look at a lifestyle change. The body needs a diet rich in iron to prevent its stores running low. There are two forms of iron that influence the absorption of iron into the body. These are Heme Iron, which is found in animal sources, and Non-Heme Iron, which is found in vegetable sources. Heme Iron has better absorption into the body than Non-Heme Iron so therefore is going to be a better option when it comes to improving iron levels.

Best Iron Sources

Heme Iron (Meats) 

Best Sources

  • Clams
  • Pork Liver
  • Oysters
  • Chicken Liver
  • Mussels
  • Beef Liver

Good Sources

  • Beef
  • Kangaroo
  • Shrimp
  • Sardines
  • Turkey

Non-Heme Iron

Best Sources

  • Enriched Breakfast Cereals
  • Cooked Beans and Lentils
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Blackstrap Molasses

Good Sources

  • Canned Beans
  • Baked Potatoes (with skin)
  • Enriched Pasta
  • Canned Asparagus

Enhancers and Inhibitors

Iron absorption can be enhanced or inhibited to, so if you are getting a good source of iron but having with foods that inhibit the process then your fighting a losing battle. On the other hand if by adding curtain foods to your meal then non-heme iron absorption can be improved.

Enhancers

  • Meat, Fish and Poultry
  • Fruits: Orange, Orange Juice, Cantaloupe, Strawberries and Grapefruit
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Tomato, Tomato Juice, Potato, Green and Red Peppers
  • White Wine

Inhibitors

  • Red Wine, Coffee and Tea
  • Vegetables: Spinach, Beet Greens, Rhubarb and Sweet Potato
  • Whole Grains and Bran
  • Soy Products

What To Do Next

Iron deficiency is a much larger problem than we realise and if you feel you or a family member may have iron deficiency then please make an appointment to see your doctor and get a blood test. DO NOT SELF-DIAGNOSE! A blood test is a very quick and accurate way to find out if you are iron deficient. Depending on the severity your Doctor will help you with a plan to begin restoring your iron levels to normal.
It is easy to mistake the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency with being fatigued or generally run down. If you get the test and your iron levels are fine then you may want to read my article on Adrenal Fatigue. Iron deficiency is easy to correct so take the steps today towards correcting the problem and preventing it from reoccurring.

References

Iron Deficiency Institute – http://www.irondisorders.org
Sports Dieticians Australia – https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au

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