Iron is a trace mineral, and two thirds of it in our body is found in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein found in our red blood cells. No human can survive more than a few minutes without oxygen, which is why hemoglobin’s ability to transport oxygen throughout the body is a crucial for the preservation of the human body. The iron in hemoglobin is found in the heme groups within hemoglobin. Iron acts as shuttle bus somewhat in the bloodstream to bind to and release atoms, by transferring electrons to and from the other atoms as it moves between various oxidation states. When it comes to oxygen, iron picks it up, binds to it while transporting it through the bloodstream, then releases it in our tissues. Not only is iron found in hemoglobin, but also myoglobin, which is iron-containing protein similar to hemoglobin but it is found in ones muscle cells. Iron is also a cofactor involved in energy production, which is a key process when participating in exercise, seeing as energy is in higher demand when experiencing any type of physical activity or exercise. Cytochromes, which are the electron carrier found in the metabolic pathways contain iron, and in combination work together to provide energy to the body. After touching base of what exactly iron does within the body, and why it is crucial for the body, then iron deficiencies in runners can be discussed.
Why might runners be in higher demand of iron consumption you may ask? Well since running is a vigorous exercise, it may alter certain vitamin and mineral requirements for the body. One of the mineral requirements that may be altered is iron. For runners, the loss of iron is increased due to the rupture of red blood cells in their feet caused from the high impact of running, and also increased fecal losses. This is why runners are at higher risk of iron deficiencies. It is crucial that if you are highly active with running, that supplementation be considered because the amount of iron found in food can sometimes not be sufficient enough for the altered requirements. Iron supplementation should be handled carefully, and if done should consult a physician for approval or obtain proper medical supervision. People that are at very high risk of iron deficiencies are active females, seeing as they have higher losses of iron due to the loss of blood through menstruation. It is important to be aware of your iron levels while being physically active, as you may be at risk of an iron deficiency. Ways to avoid iron deficiencies while being a runner, or just physically active in general, is to consume foods that will increase the absorption of iron. There are two types of iron found in foods; heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is a part of hemoglobin and myoglobin and can be found in meats, fish, and poultry. Non-heme iron is not a part of hemoglobin or myoglobin, and is found not only in meats, but also plant-based foods as well. Heme iron is more absorbable than non-heme iron, and therefore it is more beneficial to eat foods containing heme iron as well as non-heme iron. There are also ways of combining foods to enhance the absorption of iron. Due to a special factor in meat, fish, and poultry, MPF (meat protein factor), non-heme iron is better absorbed. Combining foods that contain Vitamin C can also enhance the absorption of iron. For example combinations such as eating meat with beans or vegetables, or a glass of orange juice with a breakfast cereal can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron. It is crucial to obtain the requirements for the mineral iron when being an active runner. Running may be one thing, but being healthy overall is another. Maintain your requirements for iron in order to help reduce or potentially eliminate the devastating effects across the world. Help the world be a healthier place.
Written by Toronto Nutritionist Janet Zdichavsky