If you’re reading this and wiping steak
blood juice from your lips because you’re a runner and know how important it is to get that iron into your blood, then this post is JUST perfect for you! Actually, my latest article up on Competitor.com is ‘Iron Level Upkeep for Runners’.
I wanted to share a little more about anemia and iron levels for runners because it’s something that I’ve had to deal with myself and know just how sh*tty it feels to be running when your iron levels are sub-par. And since I’m not a certified smarty-pants and rather get my knowledge from good old fashioned experience and being able to leech all the information I can from the certified smarty-pants I’ve been lucky enough to work with and train under, here is where I can be a little more free with the advice if you know what I mean.
Let me cut to the chase and bottom line this for you off the bat: If you’re a runner you need to be taking iron supplementation in ADDITION to anything you eat. To be frank, every single world-class, competitive, and ‘runner’ runner that I know, be them man or woman, take iron pills, liquid iron, or get iron injections.
If you’re training as much as runners do, there is just no ‘realistic’ way to get the amount of iron necessary through diet alone. Some people have this thing where they don’t like pills or ‘fake’ things, I respect your beliefs, but at the same time you’re only doing yourself a disservice.
In the article I stress how if you don’t have a doctor experienced in working with competitive runners, they could be telling you that your iron levels are in the ‘normal’ range when, in fact, they are anemic compared to runner standards. The ‘average joe’ levels are not going to cut it, and if you get your blood tested and your ferritin is hovering around 20 ng/ml there is then a reason why you’re feeling like crap on your runs.
When I got my levels tested way back when, I was at a 9 and at that point was rejoiced to finally be able to have an answer as to why my running was feeling so dang hard. Weird right, that I was happy to be anemic, but the good news about low iron is that it’s one of the ‘easier’ things to fix once diagnosed.
Again, the article explains a lot about that, but what I’d like to share here is a little about my iron infusions and then some tips that since I’m not a doctor can’t just toss into other articles I write:
*Process: Sounds scary, and to a needle-phobe it wasn’t a trip to the Pop-Tarts store, but honestly, they weren’t that bad. I went in for three sessions on three successive days, each visit lasted for 3-4 hours hooked up to the IV bag and outside of the prick it didn’t hurt. It felt a little cool where the iron was going in, but that’s all.
*Nausea: What I WILL warn you about is that iron can make you feel a little nauseous and with a headache if you take a lot at once. A few hours after my first IV treatment I felt pretty sick; I went to bed and was fine the next day. The other two days of treatment I felt fine afterwards though. Everyone is different, some people may not even feel bad the first day, but I think because my levels were quite low to begin with and I hadn’t been taking any iron pills, it was a bit of a shock to my system.
*Blood Levels: I went from single digits and up into the 20’s pretty much within days. It was awesome, and as I took pills after that, my levels kept rising rather quickly.
*Commonality: The vast majority of runners I know go the pill route, they are super easy. All you really need to be aware of is you need to take them with food (or you’ll probably feel sick) and take them with Vitamin C to help aid absorbtion. Try to not take them with calcium because that will block absorption a bit.
*Doses: I’d suggest aiming for around 60-70 mg per dose if you’re maintaining and just running a moderate amount. If you’re in high training and competing I’d say you should at least double that; when I was doing hard training I’d safely be having four 65 mg pills a day spread into two doses. People worry about iron overdosing, but unless you’re a kid or weigh 70 pounds you’re not going to die, probably just feel sick. That said it is IMPORTANT to note that I didn’t just go pound four pills off the bat, you need to gradually increase your iron intake, start with one pill a day for a week, add a second pill the next week but spread it out at least 6 hours and go from there. And you could stick to that amount, get your blood tested regularly and adjust your iron intake accordingly.
Iron Blood Levels:
*Runner Norm: Because of iron toxicity phobia people tend to be a little shy of sharing just how high they’d like their levels to be. I’d say that runners should aim to be at least around 70 ng/ml, and to be totally honest I’d say even try to stick around 100 if you can. Some people just can’t get that high, but going with the better safe than sorry logic, shoot for that.
If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them as a comment and I could do another post if there is enough interest. Low iron, known as anemia, is quite common in both men and women and it is incredibly crushing and frustrating to deal with as runners. Or, more correctly, it is brutal to deal with before you find out that is what you’re dealing with. From there, getting supplementation and into an iron maintenance routine is an easy way to get your running back on track!
1) Have you ever dealt with anemia? What was your experience like?
2) Do you take any kind of iron supplementation?
3) What ways do you then try to still get iron into your diet?