The Missing Element In Women’s Fitness

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If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you train. You probably are in the gym multiple times a week and put thought and effort in to your sessions and nutrition. From our personal experience, we have witness many women who struggle with training more so than men – and no, this isn’t some sexist post that women are weaker. After suggesting to many of our female clients (one’s who were missing workouts here and there, and really grinding through sessions) to get a blood test, our suspicions were correct – they were seriously lacking in iron. The age-old advice nugget of “eat more red meat!” just isn’t enough for most women. However, there’s no need to panic, as there’s an easy fix. So let’s get to it.

Real quick…What does iron even do?

Iron, an essential part of hemoglobin, aids your blood cells in delivering oxygen to your muscles, brain, and all your other organs. So it’s clear that not having enough can slow everything down and make you feel like shit.

For a lot of women, like we explained, a diet high in red meat just isn’t enough – if your iron levels are chronically low, you’ll need to supplement. Full stop. Any woman who trains as hard as our members do may not be able to out-meat an iron deficiency.

If it’s chronically low, then to get your levels up and *keep* it hovering at optimal levels, you’ll need to supplement quite consistently.

Low iron is, of course, less common in men because they’re not losing blood every month like women. But men who are endurance athletes are at risk for low iron too.

Even a slight deficiency…

Even if you’re not low enough to be considered anaemic (and LOTS of doctors will tell you you’re “within a normal range” even if you are on the low side), a slight deficiency can cause some problems that probably seem vague and hard to pinpoint but are seriously annoying.

Low iron is associated with:

  • Cravings
  • Cold intolerance
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Non-restorative sleep

So if you have some of these symptoms but your doctor is telling you your iron levels are normal, ask for a copy of your blood test results and look yourself. The system might not flag your levels as “low”, but if they’re on the lower end of normal, coupled with you feeling crappy and fatigued, you might want to look at your test results and then read the next section below.

Adequate Versus Optimal Levels

So let’s say you examine your iron levels – what do you even look for? The blood test is called a CBC (complete blood count) and a serum ferritin test. Look at your ferritin serum (ferritin is the protein in the blood that carries iron). It should be at a minimum of 30 ng/mL but an ideal should be between 50-150 ng/mL.

Most doctors will wait until you are actually anaemic before they’ll consider talking to you in order to improve it. And even more annoyingly, a large number of doctors follow a guideline that considers a ferritin serum level of 15-150 as grand.

So, if you head to your GP feeling like crap, and are at what they consider an “adequate” level of 15, your doctor may diagnose you with something else or tell you you’re just fine…

Depression or Anaemia?

1 in 4 women in the United States, for example, are on mood-related drugs. Are a quarter of all American women really depressed, anxious, bi-polar, etc.? We’re not saying that these aren’t real issues, and of course a certain percentage would most definitely need medication – but if they’re also a consequence of anaemia or another similar problem, then fixing the root will fix the symptoms too.

So if you don’t know you’re anaemic and you go to a doctor with the feelings described above, there’s a chance you could be diagnosed with depression, chronic fatigue, or something else – we’ve seen it happen. We had members who were prescribed anti-depressants for being upset for no reason, feeling tired most of the time, and struggling to function normally. However, the actual issue was iron deficiency.

So how do you get it up?

These foods contain the most iron: meat, liver, poultry, seafood, dark leafy vegetables like spinach, legumes, and actual human blood if you’re a vampire or cannibal. Combining them with foods that contain vitamin C will increase iron absorption. And while dietary iron is great, supplementation may be the only way to get yours high enough and keep it there if your periods are heavy or you’re doing a lot of exercise.

Look for supplements that contain any of the following:

  • Ferrous sulfate
  • Ferrous gluconate
  • Ferrous fumerate
  • Ferrous bisglycinate
  • Supplemental iron that comes from whole food sources like liver or beet root

And whatever you do, don’t take iron supplements at the same time as any dairy products or tea!