First, a disclaimer: I do not possess a background in physiology — nor do I claim to. My observations are based on personal research and experience.
I’ve long experienced difficulty recovering from workouts — not in any major way, but enough to make me think something might be up. I first examined my daily caloric intake (which was low) and increased it — no change. Then I thought my macronutrient balance might be off, so I increased my dietary fat and protein — still nothing. Finally, an ultra friend suggested I get some routine blood levels checked at the local diagnostics center. I had no idea you could do that!
So in early May I moseyed down to the clinic where I paid them to siphon a vial of blood from my arm. The next day I picked up the results: anemic. Indeed my “iron” (in ug/dl), “ferritin” (in ng/mL), “hematocrit” (in %), “hemoglobin” (in GM/dl), and “red blood cell count” (in M/ul) were all well below their reference ranges. This, to me, was a surprise. Not necessarily that my levels were low — I’ve been a near-vegetarian for years — but that there were so many different “types” of anemia.
Thus after a cursory review of some articles on the matter, I picked up an iron supplement at Vitamin Cottage and began ingesting ~37mg of iron per day. I also added red meat to my already greens-heavy diet — two foods supposedly rich in absorbable iron. Three weeks later I retested, and much to my chagrin, my levels had dropped further – all of them. What the hell?
My next step took me to a doctor who perscribed me a heavy duty iron supplement. The little green pills each pack a whopping 324mg of iron, and I was instructed to take two per day. So I did.
Today I picked up my most recent test results and, after three weeks of the big boy dosage, the outcome is mixed. My “iron” is up (but still below the reference range) while my “ferritin” is down even further. I can’t say I feel a whole lot different or less fatigued, so it’s anybody’s guess whether or not the supplement is even working.
Apparently there are certain vitamins like B12 and folate that aid absorption — I had my levels for both checked and they were fine — and other things like caffeine and tannins that can inhibit absorption — I’ve cut back on coffee and tea.
So no, this post does not contain an exciting discovery or answer — I’m actually more perplexed than when I received my first test results. I guess the plan hereforth is to continue the current regimen awhile longer, since just as it can take a long time to deplete one’s iron stores, it can take just as long to replenish them. And as an endurance athlete constantly stressing my body, I’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
I’m curious who else has dealt (or is dealing) with anemia, and what they’ve learned about it, especially in the context of endurance sports. Anyone?