Iron Deficiency Anemia and Weight Lifting

Iron Deficiency, Anemia and Athletic Performance

Iron deficiency may slow down athletes, impair training and just making working out harder than it needs to be.

The Iron part of anemia, iron deficiency and athletes

Iron is important for athletes as well as everyone else.   Iron is needed for formation of Hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin is the molecule in blood cells that transports oxygen through blood.  People who have low levels of red blood cells are said to be anemic.  Anemia can be caused by many different things.  This article, however, will focus on anemia caused by nutritional deficiency.

Crossfit sports anemia Iron deficiency

A crossfit athlete trains for the games. Is iron deficiency hurting her performance?

Iron deficiency can slow you down and make your workouts harder and more frustrating than they need to be.   People who are iron deficient (or anemic) don’t carry oxygen efficiently.  The heart has to work harder to get oxygen to tissues.  Low oxygen can also cause “poop out” (just too tired to continue the workout).  No need to mention this . . . but . . .   an iron deficient person is not likely to compete well either.  Anemia is most common in women of reproductive age. Recommended intake of iron is 8mg/day for men and post-menopausal women.  It is 18/mg/day for women who are menstruating.  Iron deficiency anemia (anemia not caused by blood loss, injury, illness of metabolic disorder) is highest among women of reproductive age.  It is uncommon in young men and boys and more common in people over 50.  About 7% of masters adults may have iron deficiency anemia. (Looker et al. 1997)

The athlete part of athletes iron and nutrition

There have been a number of studies of iron intake and exercise performance in animals and in people.  Performance related studies have looked at work performance, fatigue, endurance, oxygen use and heart rate (McClung & Murray-Kolb2013)   Iron supplementation has been associated with:

Anemia, Iron deficiency and Athletes

A crossfit athlete fatigues during the crossfit games. Fatigue increases risk of injury.

  • Increased maximal exercise performance
  • Increased VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption
  • Lower heart rate
  • Less fatigue
  • More voluntary activity
  • Improved work performance
  • Improved performance on fitness tests
  • Increased energy expenditure

Intense training can lead to anemia.  The popular term for training-induced anemia is Sports Anemia.  Possible causes are intestinal bleeding, iron loss through perspiration, inflammation and a generally faster rate of body iron turnover.    Many athletes (especially older athletes) use ibuprofen to cope with muscle soreness and aches and pains from injuries.  Chronic use of aspirin and ibuprofen can increase risk of iron deficiency because they can cause stomach bleeding.

Iron deficiency can cause some cognitive problems too.  These include spatial ability, attention, memory, executive functioning and planning. These abilities are important in everyday life.  They are also abilities that are essential to training and competition.

The nutrition side of athletes, iron and nutrition

Iron-rich foods include:

  • red meat
  • fish
  • poultry
  • beans
  • dried fruit
  • whole grains
  • chard
  • spinach
  • molasses (black strap style)

Other nutritional deficiencies can also make you vulnerable to iron deficiency even if you are getting enough iron.  Vitamin C and Folate are important too.  Low vitamin B12 also increases risk of anemia. There are a lot of interactions among Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and Folate that are still poorly understood.  High folate combined with low B12 increases the risk of anemia and risk of cognitive impairment in older people.  Normal B12 and High Folate, on the other hand, protect against anemia and cognitive problems (Morris et al. 2007).  Annoying that there no simple answers.  The best strategy seems to be to eat a varied diet

Take Away

Use pain relievers in moderation.  Consider an iron supplement and make sure you are getting enough folate and vitamin C.  Don’t over do iron intake.  There is no evidence that extra iron will help you if you don’t need it.  Too much iron can cause damage on its own.

 

Andrea Kirk, MSc. PhD is a toxicologist affiliated with the University of Texas at Arlington’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center‘s School of Public Health.  Dr. Kirk does research on human exposures to environmental contaminants and micro-nutrient intake and excretion.  She is also a former whitewater, dog-sledding, ice-climbing instructor and back-country ranger turned box rat.

 

Looker, A. (1997). Prevalence of Iron Deficiency in the United States JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 277 (12) DOI: 10.1001/jama.1997.03540360041028

Morris MS, Jacques PF, Rosenberg IH, & Selhub J (2007). Folate and vitamin B-12 status in relation to anemia, macrocytosis, and cognitive impairment in older Americans in the age of folic acid fortification. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85 (1), 193-200 PMID: 17209196

McClung JP, & Murray-Kolb LE (2013). Iron nutrition and premenopausal women: effects of poor iron status on physical and neuropsychological performance. Annual review of nutrition, 33, 271-88 PMID: 23642204

Pasricha SR, Low M, Thompson J, Farrell A, & De-Regil LM (2014). Iron Supplementation Benefits Physical Performance in Women of Reproductive Age: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of nutrition PMID: 24717371

running and arthritis runners

CrossFit vs Running: Is CrossFit as good for cardiovascular health as running?

CrossFit vs Running: evidence from High Intensity Interval Training.

womens racerback tank for crossfit women

Womens racerback tank for crossfit women, kettlebell workouts, weightlifting and rowing. Available through us or through the WODWomen Etsy shop.

Endurance exercise is recommended for cardiovascular health.  High Intensity Interval Training (like CrossFit) shows promising results.  Years of research have found that about 30 minutes of cardio will reduce risk of stroke and heart attack.  It will also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce risk of diabetes and improve memory and brain function.  Until very recently, there has been little research on the benefits of CrossFit type exercise on health.  These studies focus on High Intensity Interval Training.  High Intensity Interval Training consists of multiple sets of intense exercise that last 1-4 minutes.  These are spaced with short rest periods.  Or periods of light exercise.  Research on this approach to exercise indicates that this approach may be better than running (or other sustained types of cardio) in a number of ways.  These include cardio and respiratory fitness.  And also insulin sensitivity and arterial stiffness.  Arterial stiffness is an indicator for risk of cardiovascular disease.  It is also looking like High Intensity Interval Training may be better at controlling or preventing high blood pressure than the traditional 30 minutes of sustained cardio.

Is CrossFit better than running?

The question of is CrossFit better than running is not known yet.  And CrossFit is different than the types of High Intensity Interval Training being tested.  In a nutshell, CrossFit is a fitness program that involves high intensity exercise.  Many different muscle groups are targeted in a CrossFit workout (also known as a CrossFit WOD.)  Workouts may last 5-20 minutes and involve springs, weight lifting, pull-ups and other bodyweight exercises.  If you are wondering “what is CrossFit” try this link. CrossFit exercises may or may not include periods of rest between sets.  However, there is a lot of shifting of focus.  Intensity may be sustained, but not sustained on the same muscle groups.  This might be better for vascular health.

CrossFit vs Running: More research needed

Short periods of high intensity exercise improve capillary growth.  This allows for greater blood flow to tissues.  Including muscle.   It is possible that intense exercise impacting multiple muscle groups would be better than exercise that impacts only legs (as in running). This is an exciting area of research.  It will be interesting to see what comes up next.  Hopefully more research will be done soon that will look at whether or not CrossFit or High Intensity Interval Training does as well with brain health and control of diabetes.

WODMasters shirts for strong crossfit women and the men who think they are awesome.

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For a look at recent papers take a look at:

Cocks, M., Shaw, C., Shepherd, S., Fisher, J., Ranasinghe, A., Barker, T., Tipton, K., & Wagenmakers, A. (2012). Sprint interval and endurance training are equally effective in increasing muscle microvascular density and eNOS content in sedentary males The Journal of Physiology, 591 (3), 641-656 DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.239566

Spence AL, Carter HH, Naylor LH, & Green D (2013). A prospective randomised longitudinal study involving 6-months of endurance or resistance exercise on conduit artery adaptation in humans. The Journal of physiology PMID: 23247114

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruno runs with caffeine coffee Lucas wishes he had some too

Caffeine Coffee and Timing for performance and competition

Caffeine Coffee Tea (Coke?).  First we’ll start off talking about the importance of time of day in athletic performance.

Compete, if possible, in the afternoon over the morning.

Keep Austin Weirdfest 5K CrossFit Seven Athlete prepares for the event.

CrossFit Seven Athlete waits for his event. He’d look better in a WODMASTERS shirt

Athletes perform better in the afternoon and early evening than in the morning.This is the case for weightlifting as well as for endurance exercise like running, swimming and cycling.  Even penmanship is less precise in the morning.  Possibly it’s a warm up issue.  But it looks like a circadian rhythm issue too.  The circadian rhythm is an internal clock that regulates what you do during a day.  It regulates sleeping patterns.   Also body temperature, hormones and fluid regulation. Muscle response to stimulation is stronger in late afternoon.  A 2012 study (Mora-Rodriguez et al.) looked at electrically-induced response in weight lifters.  And they looked at voluntary contraction too, comparing morning and afternoon response.  All weightlifters were men.  All were described as highly trained elite weightlifters. The weightlifters lived in a research facility and were denied caffeine for 4 days before testing.  (That must have been tough.) The study also compared voluntary and electrically induced response in the morning with and without caffeine.  If you are wondering “what is caffeine” get some coffee.  Lifters were given caffeine on a body weight basis.  Caffeine was taken 60 minutes before performance testing.

Study Details: Caffeine, Weightlifting and Performance.

  • Test times were at 10:00 am and 6:00 PM.  Caffeine intake was 3mg per kg.  (if you weigh 80kg.  that’s about 240 mg or  about one 12 ounce cup of extremely strong starbucks style coffee.)  Caffeine was taken 45 minutes before lifting.
  • Morning performance vs. evening performance
  • Morning performance with Caffeine supplement vs. Placebo.

Results

Mother and daughter at Crossfit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.  Caffeine Coffee?  You bet.

Mother and daughter at Crossfit Seven in Fort Worth, TX. Caffeine Coffee? You bet.

Strength and power output with placebo was better in the evening by 3% to 7.5% over morning strength and power output.   Caffeine in the morning increased strength and power output by 4.6% to 5.7% for squats when compared to no morning caffeine.  Electrically invoked response increased by 14.6% and nerve activation jumped 96.8%.  Squats seemed to be more caffeine dependent than bench press.  Maybe mornings are just meant to be spent drinking coffee.

If you are doing Crossfit Open competitions:

This site started as a site for Crossfit Masters Athletes, so here is the info for Crossfit readers:  For people trying to qualify for regionals or the CrossFit Games 2013 this could be important.  Do your Open CrossFit WOD’s in the afternoon.   If you can.  Caffeine in the morning will get your muscles up to the level they’d be if you did your workout in the afternoon.  So when you are competing during a morning WOD, have some coffee 45 minutes before the event.  And don’t forget the four days of abstinence before hand.Last note: caffeine peaks in your blood stream 30-60 minutes after its taken.

  • Abstain from coffee for 4 days before your event
  • Drink Coffee 30-45 minutes before you start
  • Do your event in the afternoon if possible

Note: Tablet or pure caffeine Coffee may not give the same results:

You can read more about the effects of coffee vs caffeine here.

Mora-Rodríguez R, García Pallarés J, López-Samanes Á, Ortega JF, & Fernández-Elías VE (2012). Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PloS one, 7 (4) PMID: 22496767