There’s an all too familiar story of a female runner who breaks into running, trains hard, and starts racking up Personal Records. She grows to love running, and running seems to love her right back.
But with time, her energy wanes, training slips, and paces taper off.
No matter how she adjusts her training, she’s left feeling more tired and worn down with each run.
The culprit? It could be an iron deficiency.
As a nutrition consultant, registered dietitian, and avid ultrarunner, I see this all the time with my friends and clients. Low iron levels can have a drastic effect on both your training and general health.
But how much iron do plant-based athletes need, and how can you maintain appropriate levels?
Iron Deficiency and Women
While iron might not be as hot a topic as protein or carbohydrates, it’s actually the most common nutrition deficiency in the world (including in the USA).
Only two percent of adult men are iron deficient, but it increases to 9-12 percent of Caucasian women and nearly 20% of black and Hispanic women. Even in the general, non-runner, non-vegan population, there are a lot of people who are iron deficient, and female athletes may be at an even higher risk.
A 2011 study of female collegiate rowers in New York found that 30% of the athletes tested had low iron stores. Yup, nearly a third of all women in the study.
All that’s to say that iron deficiency is common among all women of childbearing age, and it’s probably even more common for athletes.