Running is a really fun activity, even more so if you have a passion for it. Not only is it good for your physical health, it also keeps your mental health in check by acting like a stressbuster. But, running is not just buying the hippest shoes and the coolest new outfits and going around the track one hour per day to meet your monthly goal, running is a lifestyle, which means that along with having a daily, or weekly, schedule in place, you also need to take care of your diet. Now, running is mostly an aerobic activity, which means your body needs to produce lots of oxygen to keep up with your workout. But your body can’t do that if it doesn’t have the means to do it, a.k.a. the hemoglobin that is present in red blood cells. The lack of hemoglobin can severely hamper your performance. To avoid anemia, you need to include lots of iron-rich foods in your diet.
With the right combination of meat and vegetables, every runner can ensure that their daily requirement of iron and other important minerals are met. There are multiple sources of iron for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, to help them reach their recommended amount of iron for each day.
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Iron Rich Foods: Why Runners Need Them
For a runner, the need for a sufficient intake of iron and carbohydrates is equivalent to that of a plant needing sunlight. Carbohydrates are a critical source of energy for most runners and athletes. Glucose from carbohydrates is stored in limited amounts in your liver and muscles as glycogen - a very important chemical component that influences the duration and strength of your running. The more glycogen you have in your system, the longer you can maintain your stamina and a higher level of performance. Iron, on the other hand, is a vital mineral used by our body’s to produce haemoglobin in our red blood cells. This mineral is responsible for carrying oxygen from organ to organ through our blood. Athletes are generally encouraged to take carb and iron rich foods.
An iron deficiency can have major repercussions on a runner’s stamina, endurance, muscular fitness and even breathing. A lack of iron in your body can make you feel lethargic and exhausted every day. The two primary types of dietary iron - heme and nonheme - are often obtained from meats and vegetables like chicken, beans, seeds, etc., and are crucial in ensuring any athlete’s overall cardiovascular endurance, quality and durability of performance, and gait. So before your next training session here’s a list of iron rich foods you should add to your diet to ensure a higher and more sustained level of endurance and performance.
Vegetables Rich in Iron that Runners Need
Beetroots are known to be one of the best and effective uses against anaemia (a low haemoglobin count). The iron-rich veggie is known for repairing and reactivating your red blood cells, furthermore enhancing the supply of oxygen to every part of your body. For runners especially, this helps sustain their overall bodily endurance and stamina. You can incorporate beetroots into your salads or in your smoothies and health juices.
Having a glass of beetroot juice every day in the morning, as a supplement to your breakfast will facilitate an increase your red blood cell count.
Potato has always been the vegetable that never fails to put a smile on any one’s face and it is also lucky for every runner as it is quite rich in iron and vitamin C. The deliciously versatile vegetable is one of the best components used to break the monotony of a runner’s diet.
Ever since our childhoods, we’ve always been averse to this tiny tree of vegetable. However, as we grow up, we realize the immense importance of this green veggie in our dietary structure, Belonging to the cruciferous vegetable category, broccoli contains a high concentrate of iron and many other essential nutrients like vitamin C and A and magnesium.
While some vegetables have a larger content in iron than the others, tomatoes are particularly useful in enhancing your body’s ability to absorb iron. Rich in beta-carotene and vitamin E, tomatoes also help keep your body clean and feeling refreshed. Eating one or two raw tomatoes every day helps combat anaemia and assist iron absorption, thereby ensuring your cardiovascular endurance as well.
It’s no joke that Popeye’s strength came from a can of spinach. These leafy green vegetables contain the highest content of iron and are the best addition to your diet if you want to increase your haemoglobin count. For each 100 grams of spinach, you add to your daily staple, you’d be taking in at least 4 milligrams of iron.
Iron-rich Fruits for Runners
Everyone’s favourite summer choice of fruit is also lesser known for its high concentration of iron. But it doesn’t stop there; this refreshing fruit also facilitates your body to better absorb the iron content from the rest of your dietary intake and maintain a healthy haemoglobin count. And every runner knows that a cool and refreshing glass of watermelon juice a day definitely keeps anaemia away.
Better known as a popular aphrodisiac, strawberries are actually some of the best fruits to indulge in when you want to maintain a high red blood cell count. The ripe and delicious red fruit is rich in iron and vitamin C, which essentially helps absorb iron from the rest of your food intake.
Interestingly, dried apricots are far more preferred than their fresh counterparts, as they tend to contain a much higher level of nutrients. They provide an ideal source of iron, fibre, antioxidant carotenoids and potassium. The potassium proves quite vital for a runner’s body as it helps maintain healthy rates of blood pressure. A sufficient amount of the fruit’s inclusion into your dietary system helps beyond just fulfilling your daily iron requirements.
The rich and blood red fruit contains high levels of calcium, protein, fibre and a whole lot of iron, making it the quintessential source of energy for athletes who undergo extensive training and are required to maintain high levels of endurance.
Non-vegetarian Options for Runners that are High in Iron
Certain red meat without high levels of fat, like beef, is one of the most effective food when it comes to battling anaemia and is the perfect protein supplement. But most importantly, red meat is extremely rich in a heme variety of iron. This type of iron is very easily absorbed by the blood and hence leads to a quicker enhancement haemoglobin levels. Runners can opt for a variety of red meats without fat such as ground beef and sirloin beef, and with just an 85-gram intake of beef, you’d be adding at least 2.1 milligrams of iron into your diet!
Liver and Chicken Breasts
The liver of poultry is known to have a naturally large storage of iron and protein. Chicken, beef, and pork liver are very often recommended for runners and high-intensity athletes to maintain progressive levels protein and iron. Chicken breasts are also a very lean and reliable source of protein and an iron-rich animal source. It is best recommended for runners to add at least a 100 grams of chicken breast (1 milligram of iron) in one to two of their meals in the day,
Little did we know that we have an abundance iron rich foods right under the sea! Fish is often opted by athletes to help prevent anaemia and maintain high levels of iron. Many of the popular fatty fishes like tuna and salmon - as well as other seafood like mussels and oysters - are very rich in iron and vitamin D. It’s very important to make fatty fishes, like baked or roasted salmon, or any other kind of seafood a part of diet at least three times a week.
Runners can spice up the tediousness of their diets by indulging in a hearty serving of oysters, every once in awhile, as 100-gram pacific oysters are known to contain around 7.2 milligrams of iron!
Iron Rich Dairy Products that Runners Should Take
Whole Grain Bread
A single slice of whole grain bread is believed to contain about 6% of the daily iron requirement for your body and it is incidentally a very good source of non-heme iron. This will ultimately help the body effectively fight any form of iron deficiency. Runners, athletes and health enthusiasts usually replace their staple intake of white with whole grain wheat bread.
Eggs are known to be a very rich source protein and contain a bounty of antioxidants that help your body stock up on vitamins and minerals. One boiled egg is considered to contain up to 1 milligram of iron and consuming one every day helps boost your haemoglobin, vitamin and protein count. It is always suggested to runners who indulge in a lot of high-intensity training to have at least one boiled egg a day, as a supplement to their breakfast.
For runners who happen to be experiencing joint pain, consuming a poached or a half boiled egg every day is to better improve your bone joints.
Nuts and Grains that Runners Need
Chia seeds are small, black and crunchy seeds that are not just high in iron but also a fantastic source of calcium and magnesium. The best part about chia seeds is that these almost tasteless supplements can even be added to your water, and you can have them on the go anywhere and anytime.
If you happen to be looking for the ultimate powerhouse of a food that really packs in the protein, fibre and iron, then it’s absolutely essential that you add soybeans into your daily food intake. Soybeans also contain a high amount of unsaturated fat or more commonly known as “good fat” and a single cup of boiled and mature of them contains nearly half the recommended amount of iron your body requires every day. Another major advantage feature about soybeans is their sheer versatility
You can easily season these nutritional superfoods to your liking, by adding them to your soups or rice dishes for a healthy and delicious meal.
Pumpkin seeds, or less commonly known as 'Pepita', meaning little seeds of squash are some of the best choices for a midday snack or supplement to your diet. These creamy, crispy and bite-sized seeds make a terrific snack-on-the-go and are quite rich in iron. While they can be eaten raw, it’s best that you slightly roast to also get the best flavour.
Pinto beans, or Rajma, are one of the more popular iron rich foods in India and the ideal food for many runners, especially the vegetarian runners. The iron-rich beans add a much-needed splash of colour and essential vitamins and minerals in your sometimes unvarying diet. Pinto beans are known for their high iron content and all you need is a handful to get enough; a cup of boiled pinto beans can yield about 21% of the suggested daily iron value. Runners can combine these colourful legumes with a serving of whole wheat rice, making the meal essentially fat-free and healthy.
It is absolutely crucial to understand that any and every athlete's cardiovascular endurance, and the quality and durability of their performance, is a direct reflection of their dietary habits. So by indulging in the above list of iron rich foods, you would subsequently be contributing to a higher and more sustained system of endurance, performance and holistic health. And fortunately, all of these foods are quick to prepare, tasty, healthy and easy on the wallet and on the waistline.