Physiological role of iron
Iron (Fe) is the main mineral found in the oxygen transport molecule haemoglobin (Hb). Hb carries oxygen to the organs and muscles that need it via the blood, making Hb integral to our everyday bodily functions and training! In order for Hb to function as it should, we need to ensure we are getting enough iron in through our diet, because without iron...Hb cannot exist!
Ensuring oxygen is delivered to the brain is key to sustaining focus and concentration, whilst adequate oxygen to the muscles maintains normal pH (acidity) in the muscle tissue during training allowing you to train more effectively, and for longer (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, 2010).
Haemoglobin and training
Without Hb we cannot deliver oxygen to the tissues that need it most, including the brain, heart and muscle for example. Ensuring oxygen is delivered to the brain is key to sustaining focus and concentration, whilst adequate oxygen to the muscles maintains normal pH (acidity) in the muscle tissue during training allowing you to train more effectively, and for longer!
Who’s at risk of iron deficiency?
Some people are more at risk of iron deficiency than others, namely infants and young children, the elderly and the menstruating female. Vegetarians and vegans are also at a far greater risk of iron deficiency due to their exclusion of iron rich foods such as meat and fish! People’s dietary habits can also contribute to low iron levels, for example, consuming a cup of tea with and/or immediately after your meal can inhibit the absorption of iron from your food. Tannins in tea are known to inhibit the enzymatic activity of several key enzymes needed for the absorption tea. A large fibre intake might also result in reduced iron absorption due to the increased transit rate through the bowel, meaning there is less time for the mineral to be absorbed, and due to the roughage acting as a physical barrier to some of the absorption (Erdemoglu & Gucer, 2005).
If you are feeling lethargic, drained, short of breath, irritable, dizzy, have noticed unplanned weight loss, or suffer with persistent headaches, then you might have iron deficiency anaemia, meaning you are not getting enough iron from your diet!
Dietary Sources of Iron
Dietary sources of iron are mainly animal derived i.e. haem iron; these include eggs (particularly the yolks), liver, red meat, poultry, salmon and tuna. Plant sources (non-haem) include dried fruit, pulses, fortified cereals and wholegrains, broccoli, spinach, kale and asparagus. Increase your body’s iron absorption by consuming a glass of fresh fruit juice or other concentrated source of vitamin C with/immediately after your meal. The vitamin C serves to enhance the absorption of non-haem iron. If you feel you are struggling to get enough iron in via your diet, then an iron supplement is a valid and sensible option. Iron supplements come in liquid and capsule form meaning it is readily absorbed (provided you do not consume it tannins from tea or too much fibre) and convenient!
Erdemoglu, S, B & Gucer, S. (2005). Selective determination of aluminium bound with tannin in tea infusion. Analytical Sciences. 21: 1005-1008.
Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, (2010). Iron and Health. Retrieved 15th August, 2012, from http://www.sacn.gov.uk/pdfs/sacn_iron_and_health_report_web.pdf