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If the only thing you associate with the word “iron” is an old-school episode of Popeye, you’ve got another thing coming. As an active woman, you need energy to get through everything from your daily workouts to stressful workplace drama (i.e., the photocopier that you’re sure is programmed to crash 10 minutes before your big presentation) and making sure you’ve met your iron intakes is key.
Inside your body, iron is used to make hemoglobin, a protein needed to carry oxygen to all your vital cells. If you’re not getting enough, you’re more likely to feel fatigued long before it’s time for bed. Even worse, an iron deficiency can result in anemia, which is often marked with decreased performance and immune function.
Women aged 19 to 50 need 18 milligrams of the good stuff daily, and the recommendation goes up to 27 milligrams daily if you’re pregnant. Talk to your doctor if your periods are heavy or if you’ve got celiac disease – your levels might be affected.
Contrary to the eating habits of your favorite cartoon “sailor man,” spinach isn’t the only dietary source of iron. There are actually two forms available for consumption: heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes from hemoglobin, and is found mainly in animal products such as chicken liver, oysters, beef and tuna. Nonheme iron, on the other hand, comes from plant products such as soybeans and lentils. It’s not as easily absorbed by the body, so if you’re skipping meat, you might need a little extra. You might also want to try pairing your iron-source with vitamin C to help with absorption.
Follow these numbers when planning your next meal:
- 31/2 oz cooked chicken liver – 13 mg iron
- 31/2 oz roasted dark turkey meat – 2.3 mg iron
- 3 oz roasted chicken breast – 1.1 mg iron
- 1 cup boiled lentils – 6.6 mg iron
- 1 cup boiled black beans – 3.6 mg iron
- 1/2 cup raw, firm tofu – 3.4 mg iron