If you’re seeing diminishing returns from your workouts, or feel more exhausted as the week goes on, we’ve got you. Optimizing your iron levels can be the lynchpin to feeling resourced and energized. And now new research shows that the type of workout you get, in addition to your diet, supplementation, and sleep cycles, matter when it comes to maintaining reserves of this critical mineral.
In a pioneering study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers tracked iron levels of male collegiate cyclists during a six-week training program that included five days of high-intensity interval and endurance training each week. The results? The high-intensity elements were linked to iron loss and lower performance.
In another study on female athletes in their 20s, researchers found that intensive training was associated with oxidative stress and other processes that damaged red blood cells, adding to the loss of oxygen in the bloodstream. This was coupled with decreased iron absorption due to an increase in hepcidin, which the body needs to manage iron, but in excess can trap it in the wrong places.
When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t produce enough hemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen. Without enough oxygen in your blood, you may feel chronically tired, or even short of breath.
Other symptoms of low iron can include dizziness, feeling cold, a faster heartbeat, and headaches.
The good news is that there are easy ways to help your body boost its iron stores.
3 Ways to Get More Iron
Adding iron-rich foods, the right supplementation, and low-intensity workouts to your routine will help you stay balanced. Women up to the age of 50 need about 18 mg of iron daily (up to 27 mg a day if you’re pregnant), and men need about 8 mg a day. Don’t overdo it; at high levels (more than 45 mg a day), iron can be toxic.
1. Eat Iron-Rich Foods
There are both plant and animal sources of iron. If you’re vegetarian, try to eat even more iron-rich foods, as the type of iron found in plants is not absorbed as efficiently. Here are a few foods to get you started: 3.5 oz of cooked chicken liver has 13 mg of iron, while 3.5 oz of dark turkey meat has 2.3 mg and 3.5 oz of roasted chicken breast has 1.1 mg. A cup of boiled lentils offers 6.6 mg and a cup of black beans has 3.6 mg. A half a cup of tofu has 3.4 mg or iron, while 3.5 oz of spinach provides 2.7 mg.
Research shows that iron supplements, especially in combination with iron-rich foods, can help you reverse low iron levels and fight exhaustion.
When shopping for iron supplements, look for whole ingredients and pills, capsules, or drops that have been scientifically tested. You can also add vitamin C to your supplement routine for better iron absorption. For the most effective results, take iron supplements like vegan MegaFood® Blood Builder®, which includes beets, oranges, and broccoli, together with folic acid and B12 to help maintain healthy red blood cell production.
3. Diversify Your Workouts
Low-intensity, steady-state workouts, as well as moderate-intensity interval training, can be better than high-intensity workouts for building oxygen-rich blood and iron reserves. Add a few a week to your mix. See the workout below for inspiration!
Resistance-Band Workout for Quick Energy
If you’ve been resisting resistance bands, now you have even more of a reason to give them a try. These low-impact moves will help you get in a quick workout while sustainably boosting your energy levels. The following circuit, from Oxygen editor-in-chief Lara McGlashan, should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes.
Begin with one rep of each move and add a rep with each subsequent round. Continue until you are doing five reps of each move. Rest one minute and then reverse the ladder and go back down, subtracting a rep with each round.
You’ll perform the moves (demonstrated below) as follows:
- Reverse Curl
- Front Squat
- Overhead Press
- Back Squat
- Good Morning
- Overhead Press
- Reverse Curl
Resistance Band Tips
- Choose a band that is challenging but with which you can do all the moves safely. For instance, don’t pick the heaviest band and try to crank out 10 overhead presses.
- Wrap the band securely around your feet before you start. Loop the band over the top of each foot and then underneath so you can stand on it and prevent face-snappage.
- The band will always want to return to its shape; make the most of those physics and control the negative contraction of each rep.
1. Reverse Curl
Take an overhand grip on the band with both hands and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your upper arms in close to your sides, then bend your elbows and pull the band upward as high as you can, keeping your wrists steady and straight. Pause briefly and then slowly lower to the start.
2. Front Squat
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your legs turned out slightly from your hips. Hold the band at your shoulders with your elbows flipped underneath and your chest lifted. Kick your hips back, then bend your knees to lower your glutes straight down toward the floor as low as you can comfortably go. Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees to come to standing.
3. Overhead Press
Hold the band at your shoulders with your wrists and elbows stacked and your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Extend your arms and press the band overhead to full extension. Slowly lower to the start.
4. Back Squat
Position the band across your upper back and hold it at your shoulders with both hands. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, legs turned out slightly from your hips, then kick your hips back and bend your knees to squat down as low as you comfortably can while keeping your chest lifted. Pause briefly and then drive through your heels and stand up.
5. Good Morning
Position the band across your back and hold it in front of your shoulders. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, then press your weight rearward into your heels as you hinge at your hips and fold forward with a straight back. Lower as far as you comfortably can without rounding your back or bending your knees. Slowly return to the start.