Anemia is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Don’t ignore it. You notice how one of your friends or rivals is falling behind in your workouts. Usually the two of you compete against each other and challenge your own limits, but now you see that something isn’t right. After years or months of giving everything in your power to beat your opponent, you’re now able to defeat him/her. Easily.
It doesn’t carry the same sense of satisfaction, however. You don’t feel like you’ve just conquered a mountain, or thrown off a huge weight on your shoulder. Something doesn’t seem right, but your friend feels like there’s no problem. He or she laces up their shoes once more to attack the hill to try and defeat you…they don’t realize that they’re dealing with iron deficiency. A fault that makes it seem like you’re just going through a usual workout slump…a slump that lasts longer than normal.
Iron deficiency is a major downfall (or excuse) for why top runners might find themselves running slower times in their races. I know a few runners who have started off their seasons or early years of running on fire, and then they fizzle out as time goes on. A lot of people might point out these issues as a fault in racing mentality. The runner will be confused at their performances, and they’ll train even harder to get themselves back on track.
This happened to one of my close teammates back in high school. We were rivals and always traded our victories in different league races. One year he wasn’t as competitive with the team and his times hit a slump. I thought it was a plateau in his performance (in other words that he peaked) but through blood testing he found out that he was had iron deficiency.
Iron Deficiency is usually due to a combination of factors: not getting enough sleep, overtraining, not taking recovery days easy after hard workouts…
Iron Deficiency, or “being anemic,” usually refers to your red blood cell levels. If you schedule a blood test, the blood in your body will have an usually low count. A feratin level lower than 20 is well below normal ranges according to medicineplus.gov
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute also cites how anemia symptoms include:
- Shortness of breathe
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
- Constant fatigue
Over time, this leads athletes to become low in iron. The low feratin levels in their blood are pointed out to be the cause for: unusual slow performances, low energy levels, a constant desire to sleep. When these issues reveal themselves to the runner, this will affect their mentality for the sport. They’ll feel unmotivated and frustrated about how they’ve been training/racing.
I’ll give the example about my brother. He recently found out his iron levels were not sufficient. His feratin levels were at a low count of 22. Normal levels are usually above 25 (Healthline).
The past few races he went from an impressive PR of 16:01 for his 3 mile race-to a slump of almost 18 minutes. All of his teammates were telling him that it was “probably a mental issue” and that it had nothing to do with his blood levels.
He went to the Doctor’s office anyway and it was proven that he was low on iron. Now he’s working his way back into the top group for his league race; the doctor recommended iron pill supplements so that he could get back up to speed (literally).
Supplements are a great way to combat iron deficiency, but fixing your diet is also an excellent option.
3.5 milligrams or more per serving
- 3 ounces of beef, or chicken liver
- 3 ounces of clams, mollusks, or mussels
- 3 ounces of oysters
If you look on the back of Honey Nut Cheerios, you’ll find that 4.5mg contain 25% iron. Naturally, a host of whole grains contain plenty of iron for you.
A strong decline in running performance….
A constant feeling of fatigue/tiredness despite getting enough rest….
An unexplainable reason for a plateau in training….
Over winter I made up the excuse in my head that I was experiencing these problems with my training (it turns out I was completely fine). I made an appointment with my doctor and asked if I could have a blood and food allergy test to see what I could do to improve my performances.
I told myself that my declining performance was because of iron, but in reality I was just looking for something else to blame. After getting confirmed that my blood levels were alright, I laced up my shoes and set up new goals to crush my personal bests. Just because you now know that iron deficiency is a common thing for runners, you shouldn’t blame anemia every time you don’t perform well. If you don’t put in the hard work and training on your own, you don’t deserve to immediately point to your iron levels as the problem.
It could be your work ethic. Maybe you just didn’t do the textbook advice and complete all of your work with 125% effort.
If you do however, consistently push yourself and outwork everyone but still feel like you’re mysteriously underperforming, then maybe you should take a step back and analyze the situation.
I also suggest that you ask for lab work to be done with your doctor. It’s better to have the knowledge about your blood levels, before you waste time climbing up an unnecessary uphill battle against your friends (who have normal blood levels).