Exercise-Induced Anemia: A Concern For Athletes

3 min read

Tired female athlete

Exercise — it’s the key to being fit and feeling energized…except when it’s not!

Recent studies indicate that, for some people, intense exercise or too much exercise can actually cause iron deficiency and anemia. This is because rigorous training regimes require additional iron in order for the body to properly oxygenate the blood. Some athletes fail to properly supplement their iron stores through diet, while others suffer from iron depletion due to additional physiological factors, like poor absorption. Either way, these highly active, physically fit individuals suffer fatigue, weakness and dizziness, along with other anemia symptoms.

It’s pretty frustrating to realize that activities which are meant to strengthen your body can actually weaken it. Exercise should improve your life, not exhaust you.

So, what are the ways to prevent exercise-induced anemia? How do you create a fitness regime that gives you the strength, endurance and vitality needed to live life the way you want?

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and causes of exercise-induced anemia will help you prevent the development of the condition. Likewise, educating yourself about anemia and exercise will give you the kind of background knowledge needed to devise an exercise routine with your trainer and to have a productive discussion about these health concerns with your doctor(s). 

It’s pretty frustrating to realize that activities which are meant to strengthen your body can actually weaken it. Exercise should improve your life, not exhaust you. 

Once you have a basic understanding of the condition, developing a tactic to prevent it becomes much easier.

Several studies indicate that endurance training and endurance sports increase the risk of developing iron-induced anemia (IDA), especially in pre-menopausal women. Iron is essential for oxygenating the blood. Endurance athletes require maximum oxygen absorption during high-intensity interval training.

For athletes, the symptoms can be more profound, manifesting in the inability to properly “fire up” their muscles. This kind of weakening of the system has even been detected in cyclists  weeks after their intense training period is over.

Like cyclists, swimmers, runners and triathletes are particularly prone to this type of anemia or iron deficiency. 

Key Strategies to Prevent Exercise-Induced Anemia

It’s important to remember that exercise-induced anemia is quite rare, and there are no exact measures to predict whether or not you will develop it. But if you’re a serious athlete, there are some factors you’ll want to consider.

First, it’s important to remember that while iron is abundant in many foods, it’s also heavily “locked up” in those stores. There are two different types of iron sources in the average person’s diet. Iron found in meat, which is called heme-iron, is easier for the body to absorb.  Iron found in a variety of plants and legumes, which is called non-heme iron, requires a little more energy to be metabolized.

Whether you’re an omnivore or herbivore athlete, creating a nutrition plan that’s rich in iron is essential to maintain the energy needed to train and compete. The secret is to combine iron-rich foods with other foods containing nutrients that will unlock the iron, like Vitamin C.   Berries, citrus, sprouts and tomatoes contain sufficient levels of Vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron it needs.

Alternatively, avoid consuming dairy, tea or coffee and fiber-rich foods alongside your iron sources because they inhibit iron absorption.  It’s important to time your eating sessions in the same way that you time your training sessions; tthis way, you’ll be able to maximize the nutrient value and nutrient absorption at every meal.

In addition to an iron-rich diet plan, it’s a good idea to add an iron supplement to your daily vitamin intake. Like all supplements, it’s important to consult your healthcare professionals in order to ensure that you’re taking one that works best for you.

If you take these precautions and still feel exhausted, dizzy and depleted after training, then it may be a flag indicating other issues are going on.

Being aware of exercise-induced anemia is the best way of identifying and combating it, should it happen to you. Be sure to eat right, take the proper supplements and adjust your training to maintain your athletic performance and your health. With the right knowledge and the right plan you’ll be able to maintain your health, having the energy and strength to continue to partake in the activities you love.

Don’t let the debilitating symptoms of anemia hold you back another moment.

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