So I’m Iron Deficient Anemic

posted in: Running | 10

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.

Yummy iron pills.

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.

Trying another source of iron… just north of Silverton.

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?

10 Responses

  1. Cl

  2. Well that didn’t work.. but clearly we have discussed this already- My sisters and I are constantly anemic. Must be something genetic. Have you talked to your family? And I think sticking with the med regime is a good decision. Though, I guess you could always alter your diet a bit. Google that yo! (Google foods high in iron that is..) 

    Best of luck at SJS50 too.. I’ll see you soon!

  3. pittbrownie

    First the bike excuse, now this cop out.  And the race isn’t for two more days!

  4. [...] Are any other endurance athletes anemic? [...]

  5. As you know, I’ve had some issues with this too. I’m under the impression that ultra-endurance activities + dietary issues = bad results. So I’ve started taking vitamins like it’s my job. With that being said, I’m not expecting to see much change in my recovery/performance for several months. From what I’ve learned, it has taken me months, if not years to get to where I am (depleted ferritin and B12), so I expect that it’ll take some time for those levels to rebound. As much as I’d like to believe I can take vitamins and **poof** have everything back to normal, I’m not significantly decreasing my activities, it’s going to take a while to actually boost those levels. Be patient and hopefully it’ll all work out. Good luck this weekend!

  6. And one last thing, I’ve definitely increased drinking from streams in and around old mining towns. I’ve heard that they have heavy metals in them and what could be better for an iron deficiency? You’re definitely on the right track with that.

  7. kissmyweaselfeet

    I think I was on the ‘big boy’ stuff for eight weeks before the docs said I’d really see any results. Also like me a hamburger. And a steak. And another hamburger…

    Good luck on your race :)

  8. Steve Pero

    Eat more spinach and beans!
    Cya in a coupla days…

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  10. Ive dealt with Anemia in some form or another throughout my life. To the point of feeling like my head lived in a cloudy glass jar and I wasn’t able to get out of a chair to save my life. One supplement that helped immediately was Floridax’s Iron and herbs. Also, It doesn’t taste as good as a steak but Liver is packed with Iron, as well as shellfish, such as clams that have a healthy dose of minerals.

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