Are Iron Supplements the Kick Your Workout Needs?

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Eating more iron may help you pump more iron: Women who took daily supplements of the mineral were able to exercise harder and with less effort than un-fortified females, reports a new study analysis in The Journal of Nutrition. Researchers found that extra iron helped women workout at a lower heart rate and exert a smaller percent of their max energy. [Tweet this stat!]

“Your red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the rest of your body, and iron is crucial in binding oxygen to red blood cell proteins called hemoglobins,” explains Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., nutritionist and author of Blood Pressure Down. Without enough iron, your body has to work a lot harder to get the energy it needs (especially during a workout!) which means you’ll feel exhausted faster.

Could your levels be low? In addition to vegetarians who forgo iron-rich red meat, women are more susceptible to deficiencies of the mineral because we lose a lot of iron when menstruating, says Brill. And if your energy in and out of the gym has been subpar, you’ve been feeling short of breath, lightheaded, or keep catching viruses, you may be deficient, she adds.

Iron deficiencies are treatable with iron-rich foods or supplements. In fact, Swiss researchers found that women low on iron cut fatigue in half after taking 80 milligrams of a supplement of the mineral daily for 12 weeks. But don’t pop a pill unless your doctor tells you your counts are low: Extra iron on healthy levels could damage your organs and increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, Brill warns. If you’re worried, ask for two tests: One that checks your hemoglobin count—which could reveal anemia, the condition in which your body has a low red blood cell count—and another that measures ferritin levels, or your actual iron supply.

And if you don’t regularly eat red meat, turkey, or egg yolks, fill your plate with iron-rich plant-based foods, like dark leafy greens, dried fruit, quinoa, beans and lentils. Eat them with a source of vitamin C (like lemon juice or tomatoes) to help your body better absorb the iron, Brill advises.

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