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.
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.