For the first time, researchers can confirm that women taking iron supplementation have more beneficial effects on their exercise performance than those who don’t. Now before you run out and buy any type of supplement, let’s look deeper into the role of iron and why it’s so important, particularly for women.
What role does iron play?
Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for the transportation of blood (via haemoglobin) that transports oxygen to all the cells and muscles in your body. It also helps regulate the growth of cells.
How is it created?
Our body is not capable of ‘making’ iron so it must come from our diet. Iron is contained in a lot of foods but some can be absorbed more efficiently then others. There are two types of iron in foods:
- Heme iron – This one is found in the muscle meat of animals such as beef, liver, poultry and seafood. Lean red meat however is the richest source of iron. We can absorb approximately 15% of this type of iron from the food we eat.
- Non-Heme iron (for vegetarians) – This type is found in plant-based foods such lentils, beans, cereal grains, eggs, spinach, black currants, dried fruit and nuts. We absorb only around 5% of iron from these foods, but this can be boosted by adding Vitamin C in collaboration with this type of food.
Why is it important for exercise?
Iron also helps carry oxygen to the brain – very important for exercise and intense activities. When iron levels dip, your body becomes short on oxygen, which can lead to fatigue, trouble concentrating, lethargy and poor performance. Ever hit the gym with that feeling of ‘no energy’? Yes, that’s that.
Published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers undertook a “review and analysis” of the effect of iron supplementation to the exercise performance of women in child bearing years. They found women who were given iron were able to perform a given exercise at a “lower heart rate and at a higher efficiency”.
Here’s the catch – these results were mainly seen in women who had been iron-deficient or anaemic (common in women of reproductive age) at the beginning of the trial as well as women who were intensely training including elite athletes. The researchers do go on to say though it could have implications for the general health and well being of the rest of the population.
Women in their child bearing age, are menstruating, pregnant or vegetarian and suffer ongoing symptoms should see a doctor. You are not necessarily anaemic or suffering an iron deficiency but it’s always good to rule it out.