Iron Status and Exercise
Iron is a mineral that is vital for health. It is responsible for making new red blood cells, helping to carry oxygen to cells in the body, and plays a role in maintaining the energy release needed to sustain aerobic and endurance activity.¹ It is important for athletes to ensure that they consume iron-rich foods as dietary iron recommendations are 1.3 to 1.7 times higher for athletes than non-athletes.¹ Athletes have higher iron needs as intense training stimulates an increase in the number of red blood cells and small blood vessels, thereby increasing the need for more iron. In addition, athletes may also have blood loss through injury, heavy sweating, digestive losses and/or through foot strike damage to red blood cells in the feet caused by running on hard surfaces.¹ Inadequate intakes of iron-rich foods may lead to low levels of iron in the tissues. This can reduce oxygen uptake into cells, and have a negative impact on training effort and performance capacity.¹
Iron can be found in both animal and plant based foods. Animal sources (called “heme iron”) include meat, fish and poultry, while plant sources (called “non-heme iron) include dried beans, peas, lentils and some fruit and vegetables.² In Canada, grain products like breakfast cereals and flour are fortified with iron.² To maximize iron absorption, pair iron containing foods with Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. See below for a list of some common iron-rich foods.
* Do not take supplements without a diagnosis of iron deficiency and consultation from your doctor.
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of…||Stay below…|
|Men 19 and older||8 mg/day||45 mg/day|
|Women 19-50||18 mg/day||45 mg/day|
|Women 51 and older||8 mg/day||45 mg/day|
Table from Dietitians of Canada²
Food Sources of Iron:
|Food||Serving Size||Iron (mg)|
|Spinach, cooked||½ cup||2.0-3.4|
|Tomato sauce||½ cup||2.4|
|Edamame, cooked||½ cup||1.9-2.4|
|Prune juice||½ cup||1.6|
|Kale, cooked||½ cup||1.3|
|Oatmeal, instant, cooked||¾ cup||4.5-6.6|
|Cream of Wheat, cooked||¾ cup||5.7-5.8|
|Cereal, dry||30 g||4.0-4.3|
|Beef, cooked||75 g||1.4-3.3|
|Chicken, cooked||75 g||0.4-2.0|
|Tuna, light, canned in water||75 g||1.2|
|Tofu, cooked||¾ cup||2.4-8.0|
|Lentils, cooked||¾ cup||4.1-4.9|
|Pumpkin seeds||¼ cup||1.4-4.7|
|Blackstrap molasses||1 Tbsp||3.6|
Adapted from Dietitians of Canada²
Black Bean and Spinach Enchiladas with Avocado Cream Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium cooking onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 19oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups salsa
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
- Toppings (optional): shredded cheese, plain yogurt, green onions
Avocado Cream Sauce
- 2 medium ripe avocados
- 2 tbsp water
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup packed parsley (or cilantro)
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- Black pepper to taste
- Grease a 9 x 11 baking dish and preheat oven to 350F.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium to low heat.
- Add in the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until translucent.
- Add in minced garlic and reduce heat to low and cook for a couple more minutes.
- Add in the pepper and zucchini and saute for another 5 minutes.
- Add spinach and allow to wilt
- Add drained black beans. Cook until mixture heated through about 5-7 more minutes on medium-low heat.
- Add in the salsa. Stir well.
- Add in your seasoning, adjusting as necessary. Stir well.
- Scoop about 3/4-1 cup of the mixture onto the bottom of your casserole dish and spread out in a thin layer.
- Scoop about 3/4 – 1 cup of the mixture onto each tortilla and wrap, placing the fold down on the casserole dish. Repeat for the remaining 3 tortillas and leave a bit of filling left to spread over the top.
- Sprinkle with cheese if preferred.
- Bake or 20 minutes. When the enchiladas are cooked, remove from oven and garnish with avocado cream sauce or whatever other toppings you enjoy.
Avocado Cream Sauce
- Add avocado flesh and water to a food processor. Pulse until creamy.
- Add remaining ingredients and process until well blended.
Recipe adapted from: http://ohsheglows.com/2011/05/04/vegan-enchiladas-with-cilantro-avocado-cream-sauce-2/
- Iron Depletion in Athletes Fact Sheet. Sports Dietitians of Australia Website. https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Iron_depletion_in_athletes.pdf. Published February 2009. Accessed March 31, 2016.
- Food Sources of Iron. Dietitians of Canada Website. http://www.dietitians.ca/getattachment/130db3ca-3a27-4147-90ae-ae27a543b09b/factsheet-food-sources-of-iron.pdf.aspx. Published 2014. Accessed March 31, 2016