Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Iron and exercise

I gave into my craving and I ate my first hamburger in a decade. It was delicious. But more than that, for the first time in a long time, I was satiated by a single reasonably portioned meal. I was getting worried by the fact that I had no appetite after my long runs. It wasn't because of lack of hunger. I just wasn't hungry for tofu, beans, or any other veggie protein. None of those things felt substantive enough after a really hard workout. This is the first time in all my years of vegetarianism that I've craved meat, so I took the hint.

I got my blood tests back and I do indeed have low iron levels. In fact, they're lower than they were a month ago, and that's despite my best attempts to eat a well rounded iron rich diet. I know that the quick and easy fix is to take iron pills. But I can't help but feel that it's my diet that is inadequate, and that's a problem that can be fixed by changing what I eat. I'll probably combine both approaches and start taking iron supplements as well as add a small amount of meat back into my diet.

The key point here is to listen to your body. I've increasingly had problems with nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, and loss of appetite during and after exercise. I've also been frustrated by my inability to improve my performance. I have no idea how much of that is related to blood iron. But from my reading I've come to realize that endurance athletes carefully monitor their blood iron levels. Anemia is quite common, and being a female vegetarian put me at high risk. Rigorous exercise increases your iron requirements up to 30%, and vegetarians must consume twice as much iron as omnivores because non-haem (plant derived) iron is absorbed half as well as haem (animal derived) iron.

Related reading:
Women with low iron have impaired physical performance
Iron status and exercise

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