View Full Version : Iron woman! Women, exercise, and iron

09-06-2005, 08:50 PM
I've struggled with problems with running out of energy on hills for years, despite doing hill intervals, using a heart-rate monitor to train in the correct zones, etc. But I think I've found the answer.

This year, when I was totally exhausted for weeks at the end of the cross-country ski season (my favorite sport), I went to see my doctor. Everything was normal except for low blood iron. Not anemia, just low iron. This has been a regular problem off and on, and I hadn't taken low iron or even mild anemia too seriously.

But this time I did some web research and found reliable-seeming sources that stated that heavy exercise can deplete women's iron reserves, low blood iron can adversely affect athletic performance (duh, I should have known this one!), and coffee can interfere with iron absorption. It all suddenly fit together for this coffeeholic lousy hill-climbing tired at the end of every xc ski season woman.

I have decreased my coffee consumption, and started taking iron supplements daily with vitamin C (and a couple hours after or before any coffee or calcium). And, I'm doing great! Hills I used to suffer on are getting much easier; I don't feel like I'm going to puke, pass out, and have my thighs burn off. I rode up a challenging hill that I've ridden before today, at 6,500 feet altitude, and I was fine!!!!

My doctor has pooh-poohed my web findings. Has anybody else had similar experiences, or is anyone a health-care professional who can verify what I found on the web and have experienced? (I think it may be time to find a doctor who will take my input more seriously, too.) Any further info re iron and exercise would be appreciated.

09-07-2005, 04:57 AM
Your doctor doesn't understand iron supplementation for female athletes? I'd get a new doctor!!! :eek:

There's pleanty of crap out there on the internet about supplements, but iron is a well known thing...the Friel Cyclist's Training Bible recommends that all women get their iron tested and have supplementatin supervised by a doctor, and he's as mainstream as it gets in cycling.

If you're into serious training, you should buy a copy of the "bible," or just read that section standing in Barnes and Nobles-he has a bibliography to each chapter that might have more info.

09-07-2005, 05:01 AM
Thank you for sharing your findings! I have always suffered with low iron ("suffer" is a little harsh) I have been turned down many times trying to give blood because it was too low, i even took suppliments for a week before a blood drive and it was too HIGH...I must be on the border-line :rolleyes:

I am a coffe drinker and a newly reformed excersice freak...i new something like that was happening but just never took the time to research it...i seem to be more lathargic during that time more-so than the rest of the month. I am going to look more into how I can regulate it and cut back on my coffee so I can "hang" a little better on those group rides :D


Keep pedaling!!!!!

09-07-2005, 10:14 AM
I never had problems with iron in the past - but I also never exercised like I have this year. When I went to donate blood the last time, I just barely passed the iron test. The examiner even said if it didn't "sink" within the next so many seconds he was gonna have to pass on me. :eek: I had Never had that happen before. I wouldn't have said I was experiencing any other problems but I might've and just blown them off as allergies, or the weather, or menopause, or laziness! LOL I also did the research and I supplement now too.

as a footnote: of the 4 women in my family (including me) I was the only one not on iron supplements. And I'm with Han-Grrl.....my tests always came back "low normal" but hey normal is normal right??

09-08-2005, 08:32 AM
I had been diagnosed with low iron last year...

I was sleeping ALL the time. i couldn't get enough energy. I had my blood checked and the nurse said it was within normal limits. I had to findout what they meant. I was actually just within limits and certainly way too low for someone training for mtb racing. I went on iron supplements and started to feel way better. even emotionally. i was just more well, level headed. Because i was so exhausted i was also very emotional. so that is my little experience with low iron.

09-09-2005, 09:39 AM
One good thing about the depo shot (well, besides not having a period!) is I don't have to worry about low iron any more. I used to have to supplement for a week before donating blood, but now I don't have to any more, ever.


09-09-2005, 12:13 PM
I see you are having Vit C supplements with your iron - most excellent because Vit C helps the body to absorb more iron than it would without the Vit C
Have VitC rich foods or juices with every meal and that will help as will

Good luck

09-09-2005, 12:57 PM
And tea/coffee shortly before/after a meal will reduce your iron absorption.

09-10-2005, 06:28 PM
And tea/coffee shortly before/after a meal will reduce your iron absorption.

Decaf too?

09-10-2005, 08:40 PM
Caffeine is better for you than decaf... you know what they do to make coffee caffeine-less?


Drink coffe, not decaf, just not with your iron-rich food...

09-11-2005, 04:54 AM
Well, I do know what we had to do to get the caffeine out of teabags in chem labs. Of course, we were trying to preserve the caffiene rather than the tea, but I doubt the solvents used are any less nasty. But I don't think about that - I come form the "if it ain't got caffeine in it I may as well drink some brown water" school of thought. ;) I mean, Caffeine-free Diet Coke? What's left? :eek:

09-11-2005, 09:51 AM
caffeine free diet coke...


scarey words, tl... scarey scarey words...

:cool: ;)

09-11-2005, 05:02 PM
Would you talk a bit about what iron supplement you use? I was discovered to have anemia last summer, after I'd been on a daily walking program for a good year. It was so low that I was given iron infusions, with exploratory tests (lots of probing, no results) for the source of the "blood loss."

I became convinced it was from the weight bearing ex of walking, as well as heavier than normal perimenopausal periods, and have tried to just eat better. My iron counts are now in the normal range, but low normal. I've never looked into a supplement because there were too many choices. My docs never suggested supplementing, saying it causes constipation (not my idea of a good time).

So what works for you all? Apparently you're not living with constipation! :rolleyes: And how did you determine what dose and what kind of iron to take?

09-12-2005, 07:20 AM
I have had bouts of tiredness and figured it was low iron, I recently had a blood test and they said it was normal. I thought it might be low blood sugar but even that was normal.

I have started eating more iron rich foods, I only eat spinach now instead of lettuce, I even put it on my sandwiches. I don't eat a lot of meat anymore, mostly veggie burgers and such which have some iron.

I can't seem to take iron as it causes stomach upset (as does most everything else), about once a week I take a multi vitamin with iron at night it doesn't seem to bother me as much that way.

I figured out that while I was taking my vitamins (w/o iron) I felt really tired, I quit taking the vitamins and feel much better :confused: Must be something I can't handle in them, now I take a super b complex, calcium, mag and zinc, and MSM, I eat lots of veggies so hopefully I am getting enough, I also have started snacking on dry cereal which has lots of vitamins too.

Boy, the things we have to do!

09-12-2005, 08:00 AM
If you get a chance check out this months Bicycling mag its got an article on vitamin supplements. Interesting read.

09-12-2005, 08:17 AM
I have started eating more iron rich foods, I only eat spinach now instead of lettuce, I even put it on my sandwiches. I don't eat a lot of meat anymore, mostly veggie burgers and such which have some iron.

You probably already know this, but take your iron rich foods with citrus or some other vitamin C food. It helps your body absorb the iron.

Trigurl, I'm just like you. Multiples make me sick, but singular vitamins are OK. :confused:

09-13-2005, 09:33 AM
My doc told me to take ferrous gluconate, but I had trouble w/ constipation and stomach upset with it.

I found one that called itself "Gentle Iron" on the supplement shelf, which claimed to not cause these problems so much. It's Ferrous Bis-glycinate. Does seem to cause less problems. Last time I bought iron the store didn't have the same brand, so I got Radiance "Easy Iron." Same form of iron, also has C, folic acid, and B-12. Also has not caused as much constipation or stomach upset.

Oh, and I learned the hard way: NEVER take iron on a totally empty stomach (unless you want to feel like puking.)

Also: Calcium interferes with iron absorption, according to every source I found. I have no clue how the multis with both can be helpful.

09-14-2005, 08:06 PM
Another method of getting more iron into your diet is to cook in a cast iron pan. Seriously! Some of the iron leaches into the food. If you eat eggs, they absorb quite a bit of the iron from the pan. I also do most of my stir-fry in an iron skillet. A very easy to add a little bit of iron!


09-15-2005, 01:12 AM
Hmmm... I hadn't thought about the iron cookware and it leaching into the food - excellent

Time to chuck out all the aluminium cooking stuff though, huh?
And use glass not plastic cookware in the microwave, yes?

09-15-2005, 03:05 AM
Heh - given the number of rings of melty bits I've left on the inside of supposedly microwave-safe containers, the latter is a given.

09-15-2005, 03:43 AM
Time to chuck out all the aluminium cooking stuff though, huh?
And use glass not plastic cookware in the microwave, yes?

Plastic supposedly leeches a chemical that is a carcinogen. So, yeah, use glass. Even to cover your glass bowls. I use a plate to cover a glass bowl if it is a spattering material (like everything I cook!)

09-15-2005, 03:51 AM
Lots of good experiences shared here, thanks! I got to do labs through my work (at a deep discount) this week, and I'm eager to see the results and know what my iron level is right now. I'll be looking at the Bicycling article, hunting up Nancy Clark's book, checking out the website mentioned, and perusing the vitamin aisle for my future remedy of choice. I do use cast iron for eggs and stir fry, so that was good to know.

I wonder how much iron is in a veggie weiner? Maybe a veggie weiner a day keeps the doctor away? ;)

09-15-2005, 09:17 AM
Plastic supposedly leeches a chemical that is a carcinogen. So, yeah, use glass. Even to cover your glass bowls. I use a plate to cover a glass bowl if it is a spattering material (like everything I cook!)

I read an article (sorry cant remember when or where) that talked about freezing of plastic. Freezing purchased water in its bottle can also release nasty chemicals out of the plastic. If you do reuse purchased water bottles you should ditch them after a while as the plastic starts to break down and then you are drinking it. :eek:

09-15-2005, 09:22 AM
I read an article (sorry cant remember when or where) that talked about freezing of plastic. Freezing purchased water in its bottle can also release nasty chemicals out of the plastic. If you do reuse purchased water bottles you should ditch them after a while as the plastic starts to break down and then you are drinking it. :eek:

Hey Guys - just looked this up on a search engine to see if I could find the article and guess what apparently this is a myth. Sorry I keep getting sucked in by stuff I read but this was not on the internet it was in a health mag of some sort. Oh well disregard my rantings.

09-29-2005, 09:06 AM
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the toxicity of plastics for food storage and cooking, but here are two good summaries of the concerns from a reliable source:

http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/halden_plastics.html (plastic and heating, not good) and http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/articles/halden_dioxins.html (plastic and cold storage, probably ok).

I was inclined to pooh-pooh the concern about cooking and plastic, but the Johns Hopkins piece was so very carefully worded that I'm working on breaking myself of the habit of using plastic wrap and plastic storage containers in the microwave.

09-29-2005, 12:15 PM
Well, with oil arriving on the "soon to be extinct" list, I guess this will eventually become a "non-issue"... we'll be back to cooking and storing food in iron and glass and pottery before too long anyways...

09-29-2005, 12:30 PM
But what will our take-aways come in? :eek:

01-05-2006, 08:31 PM
Just thought I'd give this thread a little bump! and also say Thank you! I swear, this thread changed my life!

I first happened to read this thread a week before a scheduled annual physical, and it just nagged at me. I'd never actually thought much about low iron, and figured it wasn't something I needed to worry about. I cook on cast iron, eat lots of iron-rich meats and foods, and it never occurred to me before. But, the mentions of flagging performance and exhaustion really sounded familiar. After (barely) finishing the Seattle to Portland last July, I couldn't ride for weeks. In fact, that was the culmination of 4 months of training on the weekend and needing all week Monday-Friday to recover again for the next weekend's training ride. I've always wondered about those people who say they get all this lovely energy after they exercise, I just want to sleep all day to recover. Also, I've felt like this for years and so it didn't feel like a really new development.

So at my physical I asked my doctor to check my iron levels just for the hell of it. She called me a few weeks later telling me that the results were close to unmeasurable. Basically, I had no iron stores at all, not in my blood and even my marrow stores were depleted. :eek: Once I started doing research, a whole lot of things started making sense. The constant dizziness, intolerance to cold (needing fleece in summertime), undereye circles, easily getting out-of-breath just walking up a flight of stairs (even after having logged 80 miles on the bike a few days earlier!) and of course the insatiable need for sleep and recovery time especially after anything strenuous.

I've been taking iron supplements for the last 3 months and feeling loads better. I started out taking iron salts such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, etc and found that those really upset my stomach and constipated me. After switching around a bit I found carbonyl iron supplements. I can take them on even my very fussy empty stomach with no upset and no more consti-poo-poo. :rolleyes:

A few days ago I got on the bike again for the first time in months. Even though I can tell out of shape, I felt stronger than I've felt in a long time. In retrospect, I feel like a big idiot because I think I've had this problem for at least 6-7+ years. I thought this is just the way I was naturally.

Thank you again TE!!! :D

01-05-2006, 10:36 PM
Food for thought. I certainly don't have all of those symptoms, but it does seem like I am always cold - wore my fleece and ran a space heater all last summer at work. And I get soooo tired around that time o' the month that I usually take a couple of extra rest days.
Though we eat a lot of spinach and other iron rich veggies, the hubby and I do eat a low meat, and especially low red meat diet so its not so unrealistic to think that it could be a problem. I think I may just look into it.
Thanks for bumping this thread!

01-06-2006, 11:12 AM
Thanks for all of the info. I suspect that I too have low iron. I have a very hard time recovering from my workouts, and I am tired and have a headache all day long.I do not eat meat, tons of veggies, but it may not be enough with the workout schedule that I have. I thought is was allergies, but this makes more sense. I have really avoided taking iron because of the stomach problems associated with the supplements, but now I am going to check for some of the more gentle types that I can take.



01-07-2006, 06:51 AM
First I think that a lot of us women and vego's have low iron, but its usually a sub-clinical problem.
I also have a paranoid and unsubstantiated theory that the FDA and similar stats are too high
I occasionally take a bottle of Floradix (pregnancy,weird periods, chemo and other extenuating circumstances)
Generally I try to have one of my meals iron-rich and with fresh stuff (for the Vit C) and no dairy to interfere
( without wishing to re-open silliness in this thread like I did with the blueberries and the sexy ninja food technologist):o :o

Isn't dark chocolate rich in iron?

01-07-2006, 08:52 AM
Yes!!! Chocolate does have iron (and a host of other essential things...)
Here... some out-takes from my favourites folder...

These are some levels of nutrients in 100 g dark chocolate: 5.3 g protein, 397 mg potassium, 63 mg calcium and 3.2 mg iron. Chocolate also contains some vitamins.
Chocolate contains large amounts of antioxidant polyphenols, which can help to prevent oxidative damage to our cells and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Chocolate contains antibacterial compounds which can help to prevent tooth decay.
Eating chocolate releases endorphins, which act as pain reliever, in our brain. Chocolate does not cause acne. Dark chocolate is more healthier than milk chocolate.

General sweetness aside, there are various chemical elements specific to chocolate that may help to stimulate cravings. In fact, chocolate contains over 300 chemicals and it is not known how all of these affect humans.
Many women report particular chocolate cravings when pre-menstrual. This is possibly because chocolate contains magnesium, a shortage of which can exacerbate pre-menstrual tension. Similar cravings during pregnancy could indicate mild anaemia, which chocolate's iron content may help to cure.

Chocolate contains essential trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calcium and potassium, and vitamins A, B1, C, D and E.
Cocoa powder is also the highest natural source for Magnesium - Magnesium deficiency is linked with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and pre-menstrual tension (PMT or PMS).
It is a pre-menstrual drop in progesterone levels which is responsible for the violent mood swings familiar to so many women and their families, adding magnesium to a sufferers diet has been proved to increase pre-menstrual progesterone levels, reducing or eliminating the problem.

Chocolate is rich in carbohydrates and a sustained energy source. It also contains small amounts of the stimulating alkaloids theobromine and caffeine.
The milk in chocolate provides more zinc, potassium niacin and riboflavin than plain milk, while plain milk has more calcium, protein and Vitamin B.
Needless to say milk chocolate with almonds and peanuts has more calcium, iron and riboflavin, than plain milk chocolate.

01-07-2006, 08:58 AM
And here is an article I just found... current (2005)... when I googled "chocolate iron"

Like we need confirmation that we must eat chocky? :rolleyes:

Can a chocolate a day keep the doctor away?
March 18, 2005
Chocolate may be a dieting sin, but as well as being addictive, it can be good for you. EMMA POMFRET finds some facts to delight chocoholics
IT SOUNDS far too good to be true, but chocolate could be good for you. In fact, according to Chantal Coady, author of Real Chocolate and owner of London confectioners, Rococo Chocolates, chocolate is one of the most nutritious and easily digested foods known.
''It contains a multitude of vitamins, minerals and complex alkaloids, all of which enhance health and well-being, '' she explains. ''The iron in chocolate also comes in a form 93 per cent useable by the body, with the oxalic acid helping bond the iron and calcium.'' In fact, she believes that chocolate is so beneficial to our general good health that she has recently called for her products to be made available free of charge on the NHS, to treat patients suffering from pre-menstrual tension (PMT) and depression.
And if that wasn't enough, there also is a naturally occurring antidepressant in chocolate called phenylethylamine (PEA), which increases the serotonin levels in the brain, according to Coady.
PEAs can induce a euphoric state, as well as boosting energy levels and mental alertness, and are commonly found in 'love-addicted' women, while lower PEA levels have been discovered in people who suffer from depression.
''Chocolate affects the hormones in the brain in a similar way to morphine, and so can relieve pain, '' says Coady, who adds that although Prozac is used to treat depression by raising serotonin levels, it also has many well-documented side effects and is highly addictive.
''Real chocolate, however, acts as an instant antidepressant, '' she smiles.
''Even its smell can have a calming effect on the brain - chocolate also contains theobromine and valeric acid.'' Theobromine is a stimulant similar to caffeine, which stimulates the brain, muscles and central nervous system, and has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Fine chocolate can actually help lower your cholesterol.
She adds: ''Chocolate is also rich in flavinoids - also found in red wine - and other chemical compounds known to reduce the likelihood of deep vein thrombosis and strokes.'' UNDER THE WRAPPER Chocolate contains the following vitamins and minerals, vital for overall good health and well-being:
Vitamin A1 Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin C Vitamin D Vitamin E Calcium Copper Chromium Iron Magnesium Phosphorous Potassium Sodium Zinc
''There is strong evidence that replacing desserts with good chocolate can actually help weight loss and diabetes, '' she says, citing the book, A Chocolate A Day Keeps The Doctor Away, by Dr John Ashton and Suzy Ashton