When it comes to nutrition for competitive swimmers, we often hear about protein and carbs. But what about all of the other nutrients that swimmers need to compete as a top athlete? One of those key nutrients is iron, and today we're going to focus on how it can help you with your swimming performance.
Its role in the body
Iron is an essential mineral found in every cell of the body, but our bodies don't naturally produce it on their own, so we need to get it from external sources. Among its key functions is to aid red blood cells in transporting oxygen in the blood to our tissues. Iron also ensures that muscles are working properly and while also aiding in the process of converting carbohydrates into energy during exercise.
Are you getting enough?
There are ways to know if you are not getting enough iron in your diet. Pay attention to signs of constant fatigue, irritability, lacking interest in activities, short attention span, or headaches. In extreme cases, a person with an iron deficiency may even experience irregular heartbeats, heart failure, or anemia if the iron deficiency is over a long period of time. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, check with your health professional. People who are at risk of iron deficiency are those with a gastrointestinal disorder that interferes with iron absorption, women who are menstruating, adolescent athletes, and vegetarians.
Current dietary recommendations state that teens 14 to 18 require 11-15 mg of iron per day. The average male adult requires 8 mg/day, while women between the ages of 19 to 50 should be consuming 18 mg/day. If you're an athlete, your iron requirements are even higher: 1.3 to 1.7 times higher for athletes than non-athletes, and 1.8 times higher for vegetarians than meat eaters.
How it helps with athletic performance
Found in the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s cells, iron also plays a role in the transfer of oxygen to your muscle cells. Sufficient iron levels means higher aerobic capacity and better performance for athletes who are pushing their entire bodies to the limit with each breath. If you're finding that you are short of breath after your workout, you could be iron deficient. Iron is also lost in perspiration, and although you may not feel like you are sweating during your swim, your body is losing this valuable nutrient with every stroke.
How to get more iron
Of course, the best way to get any nutrient is through a natural, unprocessed food source. Some of the top sources of dietary iron that you can include in your balanced diet are from the heme, or easily absorbed, sources of iron like meat, chicken, and fish. Non-heme iron sources, which have a little slower absorption rate, are cooked beans, lentils, and pumpkin seeds. To improve your iron absorption, eat it with foods that promote a higher rate of absorption like brussel sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, green and red peppers and other vitamin C rich foods. Supplements are also an option, but check to make sure they are tested safe to avoid contaminating your body with banned substances.
You can see how iron helps swimmers and with some focus, you can make sure to get this important nutrient every day to improve your swimming performance. For more great info on nutrition for swimmers, follow our P2Life blog here!