Everyone knows that athletes have different nutrition requirements. I mean who hasn’t heard about Michael Phelps eating 12,000 calories per day. But what about an active person who isn’t an elite athlete, do they have different nutrition requirements? The answer is absolutely.
There are a number of nutrients that an active person needs to pay attention to. Rather than trying to jam pack one post with a lot of information, I’ve decided to turn this into a series. Today – part one is on Iron.
Iron – What is it? Why do we need it?
Iron is a very important mineral in our diet because it’s used to create hemoglobin (the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen around your body) and is used in enzymes which support energy release to muscles. Therefore, if you are lacking in iron, your body won’t be properly oxygenated causing symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, decreased immune function, difficulty concentrating and decreased athletic performance.
How much do we need?
People who are moderately active have a higher physiological demand for iron because:
- Sweat losses: Iron is lost as we sweat. The amount isn’t large but if training often or in high heat, the amount lost can add up
- Foot strike: Long distance runners particularly lose iron through repetitive food strike. As your foot hits the ground, red blood cells are continuously ruptured. Your body must make new cells to replace them and this process requires iron.
- Training: Moderate to high intensity training requires additional red blood cells which subsequently requires more iron.
Recommended dietary intake of iron for adults is 8mg/day for men and 18mg/day for women. There isn’t one specific iron guideline for active people, however, some organizations have suggested intake of 1.3-1.7 times higher than the regular population (10-14mg/day for men and 23-30g/day for women).
Now either you’re thinking WOW,that’s a lot of iron to eat or you’re thinking what’s a mg of iron? Either way, I got you back jack.
Iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme.
Heme iron is found in meat & animal products and is better absorbed than non-heme iron which is found in plant based sources (vegetables, legumes, nuts, etc) & iron-fortified foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, etc.
The absorption of non-heme iron can be improved by taking it with Vitamin C containing foods or eating it with heme-containing iron foods. IE a chicken & spinach salad with a glass or orange juice. Absorption is decreased if taken with tea/coffee. IE iron fortifed cereal and coffee.
Because non-heme iron is not well absorbed vegetarians requirements of iron are about 1.8 times that of a non-vegetarian.
Iron Sources in food
|Food||Serving size||Iron (mg)|
|Vegetables and Fruits|
|Spinach, cooked||125 mL (½ cup)||2.0-3.4|
|Tomato puree||125 mL (½ cup)||2.4|
|Potato, with skin, cooked||1 medium||1.3-1.9|
|Apricots, dried||60 mL (¼ cup)||1.6|
|Beets, canned||125 mL (½ cup)||1.6|
|Kale, cooked||125 mL (½ cup)||1.3|
|Green peas, cooked||125 mL (½ cup)||1.3|
|Oatmeal, instant , cooked||175 mL (¾ cup)||4.5-6.6|
|Cereal, dry, all types||30 g (check product label for serving size)||4.0-4.3|
|Granola bar, oat, fruits and nut||1 bar (32 g)||1.2-2.7|
|Milk and Alternatives|
|Yogurt, soy||175 mL (¾ cup)||2.0|
|Meats and Alternatives|
|Meat and Poultry|
|Beef, various cuts, cooked||75 g (2 ½ oz)||1.4-3.3|
|Chicken, various cuts, cooked||75 g (2 ½ oz)||0.4-2.0|
|Pork, various cuts, cooked||75 g (2 ½ oz)||0.5-1.5|
|Liver, pork ,cooked*||75 g (2 ½ oz)||13.4|
|Fish and Seafood|
|Oysters, cooked||75 g (2 ½ oz)||3.3-9.0|
|Seafood (shrimp, scallops, crab), cooked||75 g (2 ½ oz)||2.2-2.3|
|Fish (mackerel, trout, bass), cooked||75 g (2 ½ oz)||1.4-1.7|
|Tofu, cooked||150 g (¾ cup)||2.4-8.0|
|Soybeans, mature, cooked||175 mL (¾ cup)||6.5|
|Beans (white, kidney, navy, pinto, black, roman/cranberry, adzuki), cooked||175 mL (¾ cup)||2.6-4.9|
|Nuts (cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, pistachio nuts), without shell||60 ml (¼ cup)||1.3-2.2|
|Eggs, cooked||2 large||1.2-1.8|
|Almond butter||30 mL (2 Tbsp)||1.2|
Dietitians of Canada Food Sources of Iron
To supplement or not to supplement?
Iron requirements can usually be met by food. However, because of the increased iron needs for active people, iron deficiency can be common.
If you are feeling any symptoms of iron deficiency, make an appointment with your doctor to get your blood work checked. Using iron supplements should not be done unless a confirmed deficiency by your doctor. Iron supplements have side effects and could potentially lead to other mineral deficiencies if taken when not required.