Iron

(Known as Ferrous sulfate, Ferrous citrate, Iron)

tickVitamin
tickBoosts energy
tickAids health
How does it work?
Iron is an essential mineral that contributes to many important functions in the body. Much of the iron in the body is attached to molecules in red blood cells, delivering oxygen to all of the tissues.
Who is it used for?
Significant deficiency in iron leads to anaemia. The most common symptoms of anaemia are weakness and fatigue. Iron deficiency is the most common single nutrient deficiency in the world. Early symptoms of an iron deficiency include an inability to concentrate, irritability, and restlessness. Other signs to look out for include constant feelings of tiredness, laziness, or apathy. Some people with an iron deficiency also have an odd tendency to crave ice or dirt! This is known as pica (pronounced pie-ka).
How does it work?
Iron is important for gym users and regular exercisers because it is a component of haemoglobin, which transports oxygen to muscle cells. Most of the iron in your body is a component of haemoglobin and myoglobin.

Hemo means "blood", globin means "spherical protein", while myo refers to "muscle". Both haemoglobin and myoglobin help to carry or hold oxygen. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in red blood cells, while myoglobin is the oxygen "reservoir" in muscle cells.

Iron comes in two forms. Heme iron, which is found mainly in animal products (such as oysters, meat, poultry, and fish), and nonheme iron, which is found in dried fruit, molasses, leafy green vegetables, wine, and iron supplements. Heme iron is absorbed much better than nonheme iron. From 5% to 35% of heme iron is absorbed from a single meal. The absorption of nonheme iron, on the other hand, can range from 2% to 20%. Acidic foods (such as tomato sauce) cooked in an iron pan can also be a source of dietary iron.

Women, endurance athletes and vegetarians are three groups who frequently do not get enough iron in their diet, and often have low body-iron levels [1, 2]. Women have a greater risk of developing iron deficiency than men. Premenopausal women are at greater risk of becoming iron-deficient because of the loss of blood during menstruation.

Some studies show that exercise performance is improved following iron supplementation. Researchers at Cornell University examined the effects of iron in a group of iron-depleted, but non-anaemic women [4]. The women were assigned to one of two groups. Both groups followed a four-week training program involving 30 minutes of cycling, performed five days each week. One group were given an iron supplement (50 milligrams of iron taken twice daily), while the second group were given a fake capsule.

Exercise performance was measured before and after the supplementation period. The women receiving iron knocked an average of 3.4 minutes off their best time for a 15-kilometer time-trial. Those who didn't get the supplement only improved by 1.6 minutes.

Supplemental amounts required to overcome iron deficiency can cause constipation. Sometimes switching to a different form of iron can solve the problem. The most common form of iron supplement is ferrous sulphate, but it is known to produce intestinal side effects (such as constipation, nausea, and bloating) in many users [3]. Other forms of iron supplements, such as ferrous citrate, are readily absorbed and less likely to cause side effects.
How do I use it?
Although the levels of iron you take will depend on the amount you get from other sources in your diet, studies show that supplementing iron-deficient athletes with 100 to 200 milligrams of iron per day can improve exercise performance [5, 6].
What results can I expect?
If your iron stores are low, iron supplements (in a multivitamin or iron supplement) will improve performance during both aerobic and resistance exercise. You will also notice an increase in energy levels and motivation.
What can it be combined with?
Avoid taking iron with a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, as some minerals can hinder the uptake and absorption of iron. Some recent research shows that taking iron with whey protein can enhance iron absorption [7].

1. Smith JA. (1995). Exercise, training and red blood cell turnover. Sports Medicine, 19, 9-31
2. Clarkson PM. (1995). Micronutrients and exercise: anti-oxidants and minerals. J Sports Sci, 13, S11-24
3. Hansen CM. (1994). Oral iron supplements. Am Pharm, 34, 66-71
4. Hinton, P.S., Giordano, C., Brownlie, T., & Haas, J.D. (2000). Iron supplementation improves endurance after training in iron-depleted, nonanemic women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, 1103-1111
5. Brownlie T 4th, Utermohlen V, Hinton PS, et al. (2002). Marginal iron deficiency without anemia impairs aerobic adaptation among previously untrained women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75, 734-742
6. Friedmann B, Weller E, Mairbaurl H, Bartsch P. (2001). Effects of iron repletion on blood volume and performance capacity in young athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33, 741-746
7. Etcheverry P, Miller DD, Glahn RP. (2004). A low-molecular-weight factor in human milk whey promotes iron uptake by Caco-2 cells. Journal of Nutition, 134, 93-98

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