What Is Ferritin and What a Ferritin Test Involves

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Endurance athletes, such as runners and swimmers, often pay attention to their ferritin levels to determine how iron is being stored in their bodies. This is important because, with that information, they can adjust their diets accordingly and begin taking iron supplements like Fergon, if necessary, to fuel their hard-working bodies. Ferritin is often confused with being the same as iron, but these terms are not synonymous with one another.

So, this article will describe exactly what ferritin is, why it’s important, and what a ferritin test involves. It will also answer common questions, such as where is iron stored in the body, and define the normal ferritin levels for runners, swimmers, and other endurance athletes.

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What Is Ferritin?

Ferritin is a type of protein that is responsible for storing iron and then releasing it throughout the body when it needs it. Although some ferritin moves through the blood, the bulk of it is stored in the body’s cells. It is stored here until the body needs to create additional red blood cells to optimize bodily functioning.

Symptoms of High and Low Ferritin Levels

High ferritin levels can be caused by medical conditions, such as hemochromatosis, that make the body absorb an excessive amount of iron. High levels can also be caused by type-2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. If a person has high ferritin levels, he or she may have joint pain, fatigue, and stomach pain.

Meanwhile, low levels of ferritin can be the result of an iron deficiency. This could also be caused by internal bleeding or monthly menstrual bleeding. Symptoms of low ferritin levels also include fatigue, which may be accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches.

Understanding the Ferritin Test

A ferritin test is conducted when a doctor suspects that a person has too much or too little ferritin in the body. It is a way to assess overall iron levels in the body and make changes to improve daily functioning and athletic performance. Like other iron-related tests, a ferritin test involves taking a small blood sample, a process that comes with minimal risks.

If a person’s ferritin test yields abnormal results, the doctor may recommend additional tests to get a clearer picture of how the body is processing iron, such as a total iron binding capacity (TIBC) test. In addition to endurance athletes, a doctor may recommend a ferritin test while trying to diagnose a medical condition that involves the red blood cells or to monitor an existing medical condition in order to guide future treatment.

Normal Ferritin Levels for Runners and Other Endurance Athletes

Although the recommended ferritin levels vary from one endurance athlete to another, the normal ferritin levels for runners are approximately 20 to 500 nanograms per milliliter for men and between 20 and 200 nanograms per milliliter for women. Discuss the results of a ferritin test in detail with a doctor to determine what diet, supplement, performance, and lifestyle changes are recommended.

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Effects of Low Iron: Can Low Iron Cause Muscle Soreness?

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The effects of low iron in the body are widely varied from one person to another because this essential nutrient has many different roles in bodily functioning.

For example, there’s a strong connection between iron deficiency and muscle pain because iron is needed to help the muscles grow, develop, and function properly.

Here is some information about why low iron levels can lead to muscle aches and when the aches could be one of the effects of low iron or due to something else. This article will also provide tips for athletes to prevent sore muscles due to a lack of iron.

The Low Iron Sore Muscles Connection

The brain stem is the part of the body where pain is registered, and research shows that the brain stem needs iron to keep pain sensations in check. When the body doesn’t have the iron that it needs, the structure and functioning of the brain stem and associated nerves are altered in an adverse way. Low iron levels are commonly found in individuals who have fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, and chronic muscle pain.

The American Society of Hematology has suggested that people with iron deficiencies may experience trigger point pain in their muscles that results from a lack of oxygen being delivered to them. This is because iron helps to deliver oxygen to the various parts of the body, including the muscles.

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Iron Deficiency Muscle Spasms

When an inadequate supply of oxygen is delivered to the muscles, iron deficiency muscle spasms may occur. In addition to muscle spasms caused by low iron, other common symptoms may be present as well, such as fatigue, brittle nails, and pale skin. However, muscle spasms can also be caused by many other conditions and deficiencies too, including low potassium, heat cramps, and muscle strain.

Athletes who increase their training or intensity without properly stretching and warming up may experience muscle spasms even if a nutrient deficiency isn’t present. The aches may be signs of something more serious than just iron deficiency muscle spasms if a person is experiencing a blood clot or rare conditions like hypoparathyroidism, Chagas disease, or pseudohypoparathyroidism.

How to Manage Iron Deficiency and Muscle Soreness

If it is determined that low iron levels are to blame for muscle soreness, then the first step to treatment is to increase the amount of iron consumed on a daily basis. This can typically be done by taking iron supplements, like Fergon, and eating iron-rich foods in meals.

Once iron levels are restored to a healthy level, it is a smart idea to switch up workout routines so that all muscles are worked on a more equal basis. Eating protein-rich foods, wearing compression garments, staying well-hydrated, and thoroughly stretching before and after exercise can help prevent muscle pain and soreness as well. Once muscles become sore, it may help to take a soak in an Epsom salt bath, take a rest day from the gym, use a topical cream on sore areas, and use a foam roller to stretch out painful muscles.

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Carb Loading Before a Race: Benefits & Key Considerations

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When training for a race or just ramping up to run longer distances, there are certain diet strategies that are proven to work well to provide an extra boost of energy long-term stamina. One example of this is carb loading, which involves eating more rice, pasta, potatoes, and other high-carb foods the night before a big race.

There are some definite benefits to carb loading, but it’s also important to not neglect other foods and minerals to set the body up for success.

Here is some information about the carb loading diet for athletes, including the best way to carb load and the best carb loading foods.

Behind the Carb Loading Marathon Strategy

Foods that are rich in carbohydrates are great for supplying the body with energy, which is something that athletes definitely need to run long distances. Carbs are mostly stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is easily accessible in the body.

Many runners describe a feeling known as “hitting the wall,” which occurs when the body runs out of glycogen and the body must start burning fat instead to use as energy. This causes runners to slow down and fail to meet their goals.

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The Best Way to Carb Load

There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to carb load, so runners need to choose their carbs wisely. Some personal trainers suggest having a carb-heavy meal two nights before a big meal, rather than the night before it, in order to aid proper digestion and to allow the glycogen stores to restock themselves. Then instead of eating a towering plate of spaghetti the day before a race, choose well-balanced meals with carbs, proteins, and small amounts of fat. Another option is to taper training while gradually building up carb consumption a couple weeks before competition.

Best Carb Loading Foods

Not all carbs are created equal, and some carbs are definitely better for pre-race strategizing than others. As a general rule, skip foods made with refined flours and a high glycemic index. Instead, athletes should base their diets around the following best carb loading foods when preparing for a big race:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Old-fashioned oats
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas

Key Considerations for a Carb Loading Diet

One of the biggest issues with a carb loading diet is that athletes tend to neglect other important food groups, vitamins, and minerals while focusing on carbs. For example, hardworking athletes and especially runners, often need extra iron antioxidants to fuel their bodies with power and resilience during periods of hard training. In fact, it may be necessary to eat more fruits and vegetables and supplement the diet with iron in the weeks and days leading up to a big race.

Therefore, it’s important to remember balance in meals, even while focusing more heavily on carbs. Not only will this method help ease the body into dietary changes, but it will help sustain healthy energy for longer periods of time without the dreaded crash that so many runners experience.

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Nutrition Periodization & The Best Nutrition for Athletes

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For athletes, it doesn’t just matter which foods are consumed, but also when they are consumed. There is a nutrition training concept called nutrition periodization that involves breaking a nutrition plan into discrete blocks to match the physical demands and physiological responses of the body. For example, distinguishing one’s nutritional needs in the pre-season, competitive season, and off-season, as well as trying different macronutrient ratios, can help athletes achieve optimal performance in their chosen sports.

Here is a discussion of nutrition periodization as an effective nutrition training strategy and how it can help athletes manage their iron intakes while training. The discussion will also extend to establishing a marathon training diet for maximum endurance and nutrient absorption.

What is Nutrition Periodization?

The main idea behind nutrition periodization is that the way an athlete eats throughout the year can affect how he or she performs during the competitive season. This is because nutritional deficiencies can develop if an inadequate amount of nutrients are stored in the body. Good year-around nutrition for athletes is important to maintain glycogen stores and a strong immune system that can bounce back from intense training sessions.

The ideal ratios of carbohydrates, protein, and fat should vary during different times of year. But athletes can also think of periodization on a more hourly, daily, and weekly basis too. When an athlete takes a rest day, the body’s energy demands are lower, which means that meals should look a bit different.

Ultimately, the goals of nutrition periodization are to align nutritional habits to support an athlete’s energy needs through various training cycles. If practiced effectively in the preparation, competition, and transition cycles, the outcomes will be a better body weight and competition, stronger immune system, faster recovery times, and metabolic efficiency.

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Iron and Nutrition Training

Based on sports nutrition studies, it is believed that periodizing one’s nutrition can also help manage an athlete’s iron when training. This is because the hardworking body of an athlete may require additional iron and nutrients than recommended as standard for sedentary individuals. As an essential part of hemoglobin, iron assists in the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide through the blood and to muscle cells. Iron supplements, such as Fergon, can help athletes meet their nutritional needs while ramping up their training regimens.

The Marathon Training Diet

It is also important to note that nutrition periodization is a key component of the marathon training diet. Marathon runners should eat at least six to eight servings of vegetables and fruit each day and focus on high fiber foods in the preparatory stage. During the intensity stage, energy bars, salt tablets, and four to six meals per day are recommended. For the peak stage, a lower fiber diet is recommended for marathon runners, as well as drinking at least 12 to 14 glasses of fluids each day. When it comes time for the race, many marathon runners carbo-load a couple nights before the race and consistently snack on high carb foods on the day before the race. During a marathoner’s active recovery period, this is a time to try new foods and reintroduce items from all food groups that may have be omitted while training intensely. Timing is everything when it comes to marathon training and nutrition for athletes, which is why nutritional periodization plans have become so popular among endurance athletes in recent years.

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Iron Loss Through Sweat: What Athletes Need to Know

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Foot strike, which is a calculation of how and where the foot makes contact with the ground, is a common concern among athletes.

Runners, in particular, regularly lose iron through their feet due to a phenomenon known as foot strike hemolysis. However, this isn’t the only iron-related concern that runners have.

Here is a discussion about how iron can be lost through sweating and what can be done to restore healthy iron levels in an athlete’s body.

How Is Iron Lost by Sweating?

The body loses iron in a variety of ways, including through blood, urine, and sweat. Iron deficiencies can occur in practically anyone; however, athletes are at a higher risk than the general population. Athletes can also be at a higher risk of iron loss if they have gastrointestinal bleeding, foot strike hemolysis, or habitually use anti-inflammatory drugs.

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How Much Iron Is Lost Through Sweat?

For most athletes, the amount of iron lost through sweat is negligible and doesn’t impact overall performance. However, the amount of iron lost can increase in hot and humid conditions. Over time, those small iron losses can add up and result in a more serious condition.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, iron loss is directly related to the volume of sweat lost and has been calculated at 22.5 micrograms iron per liter of sweat. Another calculation suggests that one may lose about 1.2 milligrams of iron with each gallon of sweat, making up a loss of about 0.3 milligrams of iron per liter of sweat. This amount of loss could have an impact on the amount of iron consumed daily.

Sweat Iron Concentration

A study involving male and female athletes exercising in a hot environment tested the amount of sweat collected on the arm and iron lost. The researchers found that the sweat iron concentration was greater in hot environments while exercising and neutral environments compared to hot environments while not exercising. Sweat iron concentration also seemed to decrease during exercise.

Who Is at Risk of Iron Loss Through Sweat?

Athletes who are prone to heavy sweating and who work out in hot conditions are generally more susceptible for greater iron loss. Male athletes are also more prone to heavy sweating, and therefore greater losses of iron through sweat, when compared to their female counterparts.

How to Treat Iron Deficiencies in Athletes

There are many different treatment approaches to address iron deficiencies in athletes. But one of the most common methods is to take iron supplements like Fergon. Sweating alone will rarely cause an iron deficiency in athletes. However, if excessive sweating is paired with other risk factors or poor nutrition, the symptoms of iron deficiency could begin to occur and impact athletic performance and overall wellness.

Athletes should also know that sweating can result in nutrient and mineral losses of other types as well. For example, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc levels should also be monitored in athletes who sweat excessively as part of a regular exercise routine.

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How Swimmers Can Overcome Iron Deficiencies

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Although it is an excellent form of endurance exercise, swimming is a sport that takes a lot out of the body with each stroke in the pool.

One of the most important nutrients in a swimmer’s diet is iron but unfortunately, iron deficiencies are very common among both male and female swimmers of all ages and skill levels.

Here are some details about why iron is important for swimmers, why so many swimmers are iron deficient, and iron-rich foods to incorporate into a swimmer’s diet.

Why Swimmers Need Iron

Compared with average adults and even other types of athletes, a swimmer’s body requires a surplus of iron. This is because iron is the nutrient that transports oxygen to the body’s cells and muscles that are necessary to complete every swimming stroke. It also helps transfer oxygen from the lungs to bodily tissues and supports the metabolism, both functions that are very important in a swimmer’s body. Furthermore, dietary iron helps to remove carbon dioxide from the body, which is essential during training to eliminate muscle waste products.

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Studies have shown that hemoglobin concentrations and red blood cell counts tend to be lower in athletes like swimmers than in individuals who are less active. Swimming creates added demands for iron that often exceed the amount of iron ingested during meals. When swimmers increase their intensity or length of training sessions, symptoms of iron deficiency become more evident.

Why Iron Deficiency is Common Among Swimmers

Like other types of endurance athletes, swimmers experience enhanced red blood cell breakdown during periods of exercise. This leads to the depletion of iron in the body, and female swimmers are even more at risk due to blood loss during menstruation. Despite even the best swim training and practice regimen, young or inexperienced swimmers may not have the nutritional knowledge they need to fuel their bodies with the iron they need to reach their athletic goals.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Swimmers

Having an iron deficiency can have a profound impact on a swimmer’s performance. Swimmers who are not getting enough iron in their diets may feel fatigue, low body temperature, low energy, and have a pale appearance. They are also often more susceptible to chronic colds and flu-like symptoms.

Swimmers who have low iron levels often complain about not achieving their usual times and feeling sore sooner than usual. These symptoms can be very frustrating for athletes who mistake a nutrient deficiency for plateauing in their swimming careers.

Iron-Rich Foods for Swimmers

It’s important for swimmers to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of iron to replenish lost iron levels from training sessions. Spinach is a great source of plant-based iron, as well as kale, edamame, raisins, quinoa, and beans. Meat-based sources of iron, known as heme iron, include liver, red meats, fish, and poultry.

Swimmers should make sure to eat iron-rich foods at every meal and pair them with foods rich in vitamin C to facilitate absorption. If swimmers cannot obtain an adequate amount of iron from food sources alone, supplementation may be necessary and recommended. Fergon can help swimmers maintain healthy iron levels to achieve peak performance and fully enjoy the sport of swimming.

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Foot Strike, Hemolysis, and How Iron is Lost Through the Feet

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Low iron levels are among the most common nutrient deficiencies in athletes and can lead to excessive fatigue and poor performance. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 56 percent of runners and joggers suffer from iron deficiencies that impact their performance and prevent them from reaching their goals.

Even with a balanced diet, runners lose iron in several ways, including through their feet.

Find out what information athletes need to know about iron deficiency and how to limit iron loss from conditions like foot strike, and hemolysis.

Athletes and Iron

Iron is very important for runners and other athletes because exercise requires an ample flow of oxygen to the muscles, and red blood cells that contain the iron-rich protein, hemoglobin, are responsible for the transfer of oxygen. When an athlete does not have enough iron in the red blood cells, oxygen is limited and performance will decline.

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Runners and other endurance athletes lose oxygen by sweating, through the GI tract, and during menstruation. However, iron can also be lost through the feet through a phenomenon called foot strike hemolysis. This is especially common among runners who frequently put in long distances.

Understanding Foot Strike

Foot strike refers to how and where the foot makes contact with the ground while walking, running, or engaging in any sport. This calculation is determined by an athlete’s speed, type of surface, and footwear worn, and that each foot hits the ground about 80 to 100 times per minute on average. Heel striking, forefoot running, and mid-foot striking gaits are all common, and studies have been conflicting as to which running style is best.

Yet 50 to 80 percent of runners are injured every year, often due to overuse and applying too much repetitive force. Lighter shoes with a flat heel-toe ramp angle can help prevent musculoskeletal injuries, as well as shortening the stride length. It may also help to practice a more upright running posture while leaning forward slightly and varying running services between pavement, grass, dirt trails, and synthetic tracks.

Understanding Hemolysis

Hemolysis occurs when red blood cells rupture, releasing hemoglobin into the surrounding fluid. Red blood cells typically survive about 120 days, but if they are being destroyed through intense exercise before new ones can replace them, an imbalance occurs.

Hemolytic iron deficiency can be intrinsic, which involves defective red blood cells, or extrinsic, which involves red blood cells that are damaged. Extrinsic hemolysis relates to foot strike when red blood cells burst in the blood vessels of the feet due to repetitive pounding on a hard surface. In severe cases, damaged muscle cells can excrete myoglobin into the blood, where the kidneys release it as urine. This is a serious condition called rhabdomyolysis that requires immediate medical attention.

How Athletes Can Prevent Iron Loss Through the Feet

Adjusting the running stride may help athletes prevent foot strike hemolysis, and continuously monitoring bodily iron levels is also essential for athletes. Iron-rich foods, like lean meats, eggs, oysters, dark green leafy vegetables, and legumes are beneficial additions to an athlete’s diet. Foods rich in vitamin C also assist with the absorption of iron in the body.

Athletes who suffer from consistent iron loss may benefit from taking a high potency iron supplement like Fergon. Fergon’s bioavailability means it is highly effective in the body and replenishes iron in the blood cells quickly.

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Why Runners Require Iron

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People who run on a regular basis have unique iron needs that go beyond those of an average person. Whether training for a marathon or just enjoy going for a light jog from time to time, learn about why iron is so important for runners and how to supplement the diet.

Why A Surplus is Important

A surplus of iron is needed in a runner’s body for several reasons. Without dietary iron runners may feel fatigue, making running their best practically impossible. Athletes and competitors need their bodies to perform at 100%, and even a slight drop in energy makes a huge difference in performance.

When there is not enough iron in the diet, the human body doesn’t produce an adequate amount of hemoglobin, the protein produced in red blood cells that carry oxygen to the lungs and muscles. For obvious reasons, these are very important body parts for runners. Studies show that low iron ferritin levels can negatively impact performance because there is not enough oxygen getting to the muscles that sustain runs.

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Why Iron Deficiencies Are Common in Runners

One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world is iron; but this is even more common among runners. Many runners that actually have iron deficiencies simply believe that they are overtraining or not getting enough rest. However, this is not always the case.

There’s a special protein in your body called ferritin that stores iron and releases it over time. For runners, the recommended ferritin levels are likely quite different from those recommended for people who are sedentary. Regardless of age, it’s a good idea to have ferritin levels checked to determine if levels are normal or below normal.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Runners

Runners are naturally very in-tune with their bodies and can often tell right away if something feels a bit “off.” Low iron levels affect runners when they start increasing the distance or intensity of their runs, and their muscles and lungs require more oxygen to propel them forward.

These are some of the most common iron deficiency symptoms that runners experience.

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

How to Supplement Iron in the Diet

There are several ways that runners can supplement iron in their diets to meet the complex nutrient needs of a dedicated and competitive athlete. Healthy iron-rich foods for athletes include fish, legumes, tofu, leafy greens, and iron-fortified grains.

If runners aren’t getting the iron their body needs from foods, supplements can help pick up where they leave off. Fergon iron deficiency supplements are a great option to ask a doctor about because they are effective, easy to swallow and digest. This is one of the most widely prescribed over the counter iron supplements that can be found because it’s so easily tolerated and has helped so many people overcome their nutrient deficiencies.

If you are a runner and notice a dramatic change in your running and energy level while exercising, consider seeing your doctor for a simple blood test to determine if an iron deficiency is to blame. It’s important to tell your doctor about your running activity and level of intensity so that he or she can help you get the iron you need to reach your fitness and performance goals.

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