Anemia and Athletic Performance

26 Sep

athlete-fatigue[1]Recently, a friend and client (and committed fitness enthusiast) shared with me her disappointment in her recent running performance.  Although she is very active and fit, she was beating herself up for “being a slug when it came to running” (believe me, when it comes to exercise, that’s the last word you’d use to describe this lady).  It turns out that there was a reason for her feeling of fatigue… her hemoglobin was 8 (hemoglobin is the iron-carrying protein found in red blood cells that binds to oxygen; the principal function of hemoglobin is to combine and transport oxygen from the lungs to all body tissues, including working muscles; the amount of hemoglobin in the blood averages between 12 and 16 grams/100 milliliters of blood in adult females).

A drop in athletic performance or a general feeling of  fatigue may indicate you are suffering from anemia, a condition in  which the production and amount of your red blood cells is below normal.  An  adequate supply of these red blood cells is essential to physical activity and overall well-being. A low red blood cell count means less oxygen is being  delivered to working muscles. Because oxygen is essential to burn the calories used by muscles in aerobic exercise, this can have a direct effect on your ability to perform.  Ultimately, anemia will impact your training and performance.

One common  cause of anemia in women is a lack of iron in their diet. Women need nearly  twice as much iron as men (18 milligrams/day compared with 10 mg/day) because of  menstrual blood loss. Heavy  exercise may also increase iron needs by up to another 1 to 2 milligrams/day.

Many  factors contribute to a risk of becoming anemic. These factors may include a diet low in  iron. To get enough iron in your diet and reduce your chances of developing  iron-deficiency anemia, you can eat foods that are naturally rich in iron, such  as red meat, fish, or beans; or consume foods that have been enriched with iron, such as some cereals and pastas. Iron supplements, along with a diet high in iron, may also be helpful to correct the problem.


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