Anemia in runners

This is a picture of a few of my friends after a trail race we did in Western Massachusetts this past fall. I put this up because this is how my friends felt after the race (dead tired), and although I am not in the picture, I felt like doing that for about a year before I realized I was seriously anemic. I feel like an expert for anyone else who has any questions about how to deal with it or if you suspect that you are.Version 2

Unfortunately, anemia can begin in subtle ways, and the symptoms are the same as 99.9% of any other illness or deficiency out there. Things like fatigue, heavy legs, rapid heart rate and trouble breathing. It EXHAUSTED me to walk up a hill and I found myself needed to take constant breaks as I forced myself to try and run. In retrospect, this was very dumb. Like most runners who are slightly obsessive about what they do, I wanted to simply continue my life and beat myself up mentally over what was wrong. I questioned my training specifically until I finally broke down and decided to pay up and go into the doctor.IMG_2132

Blood tests can be beautiful things. Really, they can open your eyes to whatever is going on ¬†inside your body that you would have had no other way to figure out. I felt oddly relieved despite how severe the anemia was, just because I finally had an answer and thus finally had a solution. It’s no fun to be on a supplement.. but I tried very hard to increase my iron levels through food to no avail. And it was necessary for a while regardless.

For anyone who suspects anemia at all, go see your doctor and get tested. You will probably have to supplement for a while, but then you can slowly change your diet so you get enough. One problem a lot of vegans/vegetarians have (including me) is that your body does not absorb the type of iron (non-heme) found in plants as well as it does in animals (heme iron). So when everyone tells you spinach is a wonderful source of iron, think again. I eat a hell of a lot of spinach, and it just didn’t cut it.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask or comment. I will soon post some food ideas for anemic runners, because a lot of times the answer is combining certain foods to make the iron as bioavailable as possible. For example, combining vitamin C with iron rich foods will help with absorption.

 

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