Iron deficiency is a common problem among female athletes, and nearly half of us may be anemic and not even know it. “A deficiency can occur from many factors, including loss of blood through menstruation, pregnancy, intense training and lack of dietary iron,” says Danielle Schaub, MSPH, RD. “Athletes are more sensitive to the effects of iron deficiency since performance depends on oxygen getting to active muscle and being utilized efficiently.” Being iron-deficient means that your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, the compound that enables red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout the body. “Oxygen is needed for aerobic ATP production, which is what provides energy to muscle cells, so therefore low iron means decreased oxygen and less ATP, and therefore more muscle fatigue,” Schaub says. “Iron is also incorporated into the production of new cells, proteins and hormones, helping boost recovery.” The only surefire way to know whether you’re low in iron is with a blood test, but once diagnosed, it’s relatively easy to boost your levels back up to normal. Outside of popping pills, you can increase your iron levels through nutrition and specific food pairings. Here are three ways to boost your dietary iron — and ultimately lift more physical iron as a result.
Your body can’t produce iron on its own, so it’s important to consume