Iron is probably the most well-known micronutrient, and it doesn’t hurt to consolidate your understanding because dancers and athletes are at greater risk of iron deficiency than non-dancers/athletes .
What is Iron?
Iron is an essential trace mineral that is necessary in the production of red blood cells.
- Iron from animal origin is called Haem Iron, which has high bioavailability, meaning it’s easily absorbed by the body.
- Iron from plant origin is called Non-Haem Iron, which has a lower bioavailability, meaning it needs some extra helpers to be absorbed efficiently by the body.
The main role of iron is oxygen transport. It also helps produce new blood cells when you’re recoverying from training, and plays an important role in energy production.
What causes Iron Deficiency?
Depletion of your body’s iron level can happen because of a few things:
- Blood loss e.g. due to heavy menstruation
- Endurance and/or high intensity training – you may have heard the term “sports anaemia”, which refers to iron deficiency anaemia that occurs in athletes and dancers, especially those who are in chronic high intensity training or those who increase their exercise load dramatically
- Limited food variety (inadequate intake of iron from foods)
- Altered absorption in the gut (e.g. due to medical conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Coeliac Disease and certain cancers)
Consequences of Iron Deficiency
- Iron deficiency anaemia – Low iron levels lead to insufficient production of red blood cells
- Impaired performance due to lack of red blood cells and its oxygen carrying capacity
- Tiredness / lethargy
- Altered metabolism
Treatment and Prevention of Iron Deficiency
A blood test will quickly show your iron status.
If low, iron supplements or infusion are generally recommended.
It’s also best to try and incorporate more iron-rich foods (along with absorption enhancers) so that you can prevent it from happening again.
Foods rich in Iron
It’s recommended that you have at least one serve of iron-rich food a day, and possibly more if you have iron deficiency or are prone to it.
- Meat (beef, pork, lamb, kangaroo)
- Seafood such as oysters
- Nuts and beans
- Dark green leafy veg
Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of Non-Haem Iron.
- Squeeze some lemon on your salad
- Make a tomato bean stew
- Drink orange juice or other fruit/veg juices high in vitamin C with your meal
Certain compounds such as tannin can hinder your iron absorption, so if you have the tendency to be low in iron in general, try and have coffee/tea separate to your meals.
Also note that excessive intake of certain minerals such as calcium and zinc can hinder iron absorption, and this is often seen in dancers and athletes who rely on supplements. If you are taking supplements, talk to your GP or dietitian to make the most out of it.
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