by Julie Cornelius, MS
Did you start getting in some altitude training after watching our recent webinar? Altitude training is great because it helps to boost hemoglobin and red blood cell capacity to carry more oxygen. But those adaptations won’t happen if you are deficient in a one nutrient… iron.
Iron is the nutrient that holds on to oxygen in the blood stream and delivers it to the tissues that need it in the body. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which has four components that each contain an iron molecule. When we breathe, those iron molecules attach an oxygen molecule to be transported throughout the body. During high altitude adaptations, the body produces more red blood cells, so more oxygen is able to be delivered to the muscles. Without enough iron in the body, those red blood cells can’t be made since iron is a critical component.
We get iron from foods like chicken, beef, fish, legumes, and green leafy vegetables. Although, not all iron is created equal. There are two types of iron that we get from foods- heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in meat and other animal sources and is much more readily absorbed and used in the body. That’s not to say you can’t get enough iron from vegetarian sources, it just takes some more attention. One important thing about iron is that absorption can be increased by eating foods high in vitamin C along with iron containing foods. So if you are trying to increase your iron absorption, eat vitamin C containing foods like bell peppers, citrus, kiwi or berries along with good sources of iron.
Iron is important for all athletes, but it is important to mention that females should pay particular attention to this nutrient due to menstruation. During menstruation, blood is lost, meaning iron is lost. The body will regenerate this blood, but only when there is iron available.
Iron deficiency anemia is common, so if you are feeling fatigued, not recovering, have mood swings, trouble breathing, and headaches, it might be a good idea to get a blood test and see if you have enough iron.
Want to get some more iron in your diet? Here is a simple vegetarian recipe high in iron to get you ready for the upcoming fall season! Enjoy!
Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- pinch chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 pounds carrots washed and coarsely grated (no need to peel)
- 140g split red lentils
- 1l hot vegetable stock (from a cube is fine)
- 1/2 cup milk
- Whole grain bread
- Heat a large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds and chilli flakes for 1 min, or until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas. Scoop out about half of the seeds with a spoon and set aside. Add the oil, carrot, lentils, stock and milk to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 mins until the lentils have swollen and softened.
- Blend the soup with a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth (or leave it chunky if you prefer). Season to taste and sprinkle on the reserved toasted spices. Serve with warmed whole grain bread.