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Common Warning Signs of Iron Deficiency and What to Do About It

When you have a post- Olympic gold athlete as your coach, suffering at practice is a given. However, as my first year with Bryan Clay progressed, my suffering was soon a large margin greater than my teammates. Athletes I used to be strides ahead of were now on my heels, and I was throwing up between sets of workouts that used to be easy for me. Even walking home from practice, I would take five strides and then have to stop to rest my hands on my knees. I would get home at 6PM, lay down for a nap, and not wake up again until morning.

As a typically very durable athlete, we knew something was wrong with me, but we just couldn’t figure out what. As the end of spring rolled around it got even worse. On top of all of these symptoms I was getting infection after infection- sometimes a few different infections at a time.

One day Bryan came to practice certain that I had an iron deficiency- and, I sort of laughed at him, because Bryan likes to act like he knows everything. But low and behold, a trip to the health center confirmed that iron deficiency was the terrible monster that had taken over my body. It took months to recover from such a deep deficit.

After having such a severe experience, it is my understanding that iron deficiency is kind of a big deal. Iron is essential for growth and development, and is the key component in the attachment of oxygen onto red blood cells to form hemoglobin (oxygens transportation system in the body). Basically, with a lack of iron, the body can’t receive the oxygen it needs to function properly.

Many people have iron deficiencies but live on with the symptoms, unaware of what’s causing them. (It’s crazy that I experienced almost all of these! Maybe Bryan should give up his day job and become a doctor.)

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency:

  1. General fatigue

  2. Frequent infections

  3. Weakness

  4. Pale skin

  5. Shortness of breath

  6. Dizziness

  7. Cravings to eat items that are not food (such as dirt, ice, or clay)

  8. Tingling in legs

  9. Tongue swelling/soreness

  10. Cold hands/feet

  11. fast/irregular heartbeat

  12. Brittle nails

  13. Headache

Possible Causes of Iron Deficiency:

  1. Too little iron in diet/ vegetarians who don’t replace meat with other iron rich foods

  2. Internal bleeding

  3. pregnancy/ heavy menstrual blood loss

  4. Inability to absorb iron (gastric bypass surgery, celiac disease)

  5. People who donate blood frequently

Including sources of iron in your diet is essential to maintain adequate iron levels.

Dietary Sources of Iron:

  1. Meat such as: lamb, pork, chicken, beef

  2. Dark leafy green veggies

  3. Dried fruit

  4. Nuts

  5. Iron fortified cereals

  6. pumpkin/squash seeds

  7. Beans

  8. Seafood- clams, sardines, shrimp, oysters

I recommend getting checked out at the doctor if you are feeling any combo of these symptoms, or just off in general. I’ve learned that deficiency or sickness (of any kind) combined with exercise can provide very heightened symptoms, and can quickly move from something small to something major.

Because deficiencies can come in all shapes and sizes- do not self diagnose. A simple blood test can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your body! Have your doctor recommend the proper supplementation or rehabilitation technique.  

Probably more than likely none of you have an iron deficiency, but I want to encourage each of you to listen to your bodies! If you are feeling anything abnormal, it never hurts to get it checked out. And your workouts will thank you for it!

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