Iron deficiency: how this has impacted my running

iron deficiency

For a long time I have been feeling really tired. So tired that I struggled to run more than five miles and when I got home from work in the evenings I didn’t have the energy to do anything. In fact, most nights I could barely keep my eyes open past 8pm and some evenings I was ready to go to bed at 7pm.

I had been putting my tiredness down to the stress most of us have been going through during the last few months. To help increase my energy levels I was making sure I was eating a healthy diet, cutting back on alcohol and resting as much as I could. Despite all this I was still feeling exhausted at the end of a day. On top of this, I was starting to feel dizzy even though I was eating lots and drinking loads of water. 

It was only when I went for a PT session a few weeks ago and, again, said how tired I was and mentioned my dizzy spells that she suggested that I was iron deficient. 

I haven’t had a blood test to confirm my iron levels (I don’t really want to visit my doctor at the moment unless I absolutely have to), but speaking to my PT I have all the signs of someone who is iron deficient. I have been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old and, as a result I was iron deficient a lot throughout my teens and as an adult. 

It was continuous struggles with iron deficiency that led to me starting to eat salmon and sea bass a few years ago, but I still don’t eat them very often as I prefer a total vegetarian diet. 

Since speaking to my PT I’ve started taking iron supplements, which seem to be helping as I’m now not completely exhausted in the evenings. I’ve also cut back on my runs, doing only two runs a week at the moment and keeping to low milage. I’ve been taking two full rest days a week and on the days I don’t run or rest, I’ve been doing either a strength workout or a short HIIT session.

When the gyms reopen at the weekend I’m planning to up my training a little bit, but after discussing it with my PT, I’m still keeping to low milage with my runs and easy cardio workouts on the days I cross train, as well as one strength and one plyo session a week.   

What is iron deficiency? 

Iron deficiency anaemia is lack of iron, usually caused by loss of blood or pregnancy. Although iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anemia there are other types including vitamin B12 and folate anaemia. The only way to find out if you are anemic and what type is by visiting your doctor who will be able to carry out or refer you to have a blood test. 

Signs of iron deficiency 

According to the NHS signs of iron deficiency include: 

  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • shortness of breath
  • noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • pale skin

What to do if you are iron deficient

Ideally if you think you are iron deficient you should visit your doctor. Normally iron tablets or supplements will be prescribed which will help to increase your iron levels. Taking iron tablets or supplements with orange juice can also help your body to absorb the iron. The iron supplements I’ve been taking are in liquid form, which I’ve been adding to a glass of orange juice to drink.  

According to the NHS, other things you can do to help are eating and drinking more of:

  • dark-green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
  • cereals and bread with extra iron in them (fortified)
  • meat
  • pulses (beans, peas and lentils)

The NHS also recommends eating and drinking less of:

  • tea
  • coffee
  • milk and dairy
  • foods with high levels of phytic acid, such as wholegrain cereals, which can stop your body absorbing iron from other foods and pills

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