How Does Iron Help Athletes with Their Performance?
When it comes to nutrition for competitive swimmers, we often hear about protein and carbs. But what about all of the other nutrients that swimmers need to compete as a top athlete? One of those key nutrients is iron, and in today's world, the focus on iron is what can help you with your overall performance.
Irons role in the Body!
Iron is an essential mineral found in every cell of the body, but our bodies don't naturally produce it on their own, we, therefore, need to get it from external sources. A key function is to aid the red blood cells transporting oxygen in the blood to our tissue. Iron also ensures that muscles are working properly while also aiding in the process of converting carbohydrates into energy during exercise.
Are you getting enough Iron?
There are ways to know if you are not getting enough iron in your diet. Pay attention to signs of constant fatigue, irritability, lacking interest in activities, short attention span, or headaches. In some extreme cases, a person with an iron deficiency may even experience irregular heartbeats, heart failure, or anaemia (When the blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells.) If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, check with your health professional, to find ways to increase your iron intake. People who are at risk of iron deficiency are those with a gastrointestinal disorder that interferes with iron absorption, women who are menstruating, adolescent athletes, and vegetarians.
Current dietary recommendations state that infants (0-1 yrs) require 10 - 15 mg of iron per day. The average adult requires 14 mg/day. If you're an athlete, your iron requirements are even higher: 1.3 to 1.7 times higher for athletes than non-athletes, and 1.8 times higher for vegetarians than meat eaters.
How it helps with athletic performance
Found in the protein haemoglobin (which carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s cells,) iron also plays a role in the transfer of oxygen to your muscle cells. Sufficient iron levels mean that athletes have a higher aerobic capacity and better performance when they are pushing their entire bodies to the limit with each breath. If you're finding that you have shortness of breath after your workout, you could possibly suffer from iron deficiency. Iron is also lost in perspiration, and although you may not feel like you are sweating during your swim, your body is losing this valuable nutrient with every stroke.
How to get more iron.
Of course, the best way to get any nutrient is through a natural, unprocessed food source. Some of the top sources of dietary iron that you can include in your balanced diet are from an iron-containing compound that forms the nonprotein part of haemoglobin and some other biological molecules. Other easily absorbed, sources of iron like eggs, meat, chicken, and fish are also great ways to get more iron. Iron sources, which have a little slower absorption rate, are cooked beans, lentils, and pumpkin seeds. To improve your iron absorption, eat it with foods that promote a higher rate of absorption like spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, green and red peppers and other vitamin C rich foods.
You can see how iron helps swimmers compete, train and perform at their true potential while making sure they get the important nutrients they need every day.