Supplements ~ Iron
Many athletes have been
found to be iron deficient which is a shame, because iron is a key
component in the formation of red blood cells. And as you
all know by now, red blood cells are the ones that carry the oxygen to
your hard working muscles. Fewer red blood cells equals lower
A quick way to increase red
blood cell count (hematocrit) is EPO; but that's not good. A
safer, and legal way, is to train hard, have a better nutritional diet
and consider the use of supplements like iron. With everyone
cutting back on their red meat, and in a hectic world where breakfast is
the first sacrifice, we miss out on valuable sources of iron that
could help our performance.
is is it?
is a trace element, which means there isn't a lot of it. However
the little that is there has a performance impact that far outweighs
it's small presence. That's why it's considered a macro-nutrient.
Iron is a mineral and is one of the more difficult elements for our body
to absorb. It need other vitamins and minerals to help it get into
our body. More of that later.
does it do?
Iron is known to be:
an essential constituent of haemoglobin
found in myoglobin (oxygen carrier in
▼ in the enzymes that form the
pathways for mitochondria
▼ part of the performance
oxygen transportation system
▼ lost as a result of hard
▼ depleted in those on a
restricted calorie intake
What are the
symptoms of iron deficiency?
This is a difficult one! Iron
deficiency, and iron anaemia, give symptoms similar to those we cyclists
feel every day. An otherwise healthy person can show signs of
tiredness, listlessness, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of
performance and a reduced capacity of aerobic activity. You can
feel most of these just being a racing cyclist.
In long term cases of iron
deficiency there can also be signs of lip sores and a splitting in the
corner of the mouth, ridges in the length of the fingernails, an
insatiable craving for specific foods, angina, headache and leg pains.
Again, all of the things we cyclists take as the price we pay for
enjoying our sport.
How can it
Athletes in hard, specific training have shown a 15%
increase in red cell mass over control groups. Which has a
concomitant increase in our
body's need for iron. Through increased training, and a neglect to
increase our dietary intake to support that training, we often set
ourselves up to fail and begin a downward spiral in to under performance
Hematocrit is also affected
by the suspension of training. When we cut back our training the
body continues to produce red blood cells (part of the adaptation
process) which gives another rise in hematocrit. That's why we
plan a recovery week before a key objective event.
A lack of dietary iron is
the world's leading nutritional deficiency. It can be seen from
the above statements that cyclists training hard may have a greater need
for iron supplementation than their sedentary counterparts.
What is the
7-17 mg a day for endurance
16-23 mg a day for menstruating
Iron can be found in red
meat, organ meat (liver & offal), shell fish, wholegrain bread, pasta,
fortified cereals and green leafy vegetables.
are two types of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme is found in animal
products where the iron is found in haemoglobin and is more readily
available to the body.
Non-heme is mainly of plant
origin. Also found in fortified foods, it isn't so readily absorbed during
digestion. Which is why less well informed vegetarians are often
found to be iron deficient.
I be aware of?
As we said earlier iron is one of the
hardest minerals for the body to to absorb. To be effectively
absorbed we should ensure an adequate intake of vitamin C. That's
why it's always good to have a glass of orange juice with your morning
If you back right off from
your training, you may well have less need for iron supplementation.
If you take more iron than your body needs, or can absorb, there is a
higher possibility of having constipation and stomach discomfort.
Too much iron also has an adverse affect on zinc absorption which will
have a negative impact on your immuno-suppression system. Every
action has a consequence.
One in 250 individuals, of
northern European descent, suffer from hemochromatosis.
Individuals suffering from this genetic disease have a propensity to
process iron more efficiently than most. This means they get more
iron than most from every meal. Supplementation could push them over the
safe toxicity levels. The risk factor isn't high, but it's there
all the same. Our usual proviso's and recommendations are
This article is neither an endorsement or a condemnation of the subject
of this article or any other supplement use. It is here to allow
the reader to draw their own informed conclusion.
Do your research and
if any doubt consult a physician before undertaking any supplement
regimen. Never take more than the stated dose and never mix any
drug or supplement with alcohol. Always check that you are not
contravening any sporting code, ethics or permitted levels for your
sport before undertaking any supplementation.
Where can I get some?
Any Boots, High Street pharmacy or vitamin