Anemia and How It Affects Running

Running helps you burn calories and build cardiovascular endurance. It's an activity that requires maintaining a high level of endurance for a long period of time. It also places you at a greater risk for developing anemia. Anemia can keep you from going the full distance in your running regimen, but you can stop it in its tracks before it begins to affect your performance.

Significance

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Anemia is a condition that results from not having enough red blood cells in your blood. Red blood cells contain a blood protein called hemoglobin -- the rich red color of your blood comes from hemoglobin. Hemoglobin contains iron, which assists in the transport of oxygen to the cells and tissues, making it an essential mineral for both runners and non-runners. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type among runners, but a runner may also experience vitamin-deficiency anemia if he does not eat a nutritionally balanced diet.

Risk

If you are a runner, you are at a higher risk for anemia. Females and adolescent endurance athletes are at higher risk for anemia. Runners work up a good sweat, and you can lose iron through your sweat. Blood can also be lost in urine, lowering iron levels. Runners also may take aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve muscle soreness after a vigorous run, and these drugs reduce iron absorption in the body.

Effects

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Your ability to run at your peak depends heavily on your body's ability to transport oxygen. A shortage of blood cells in your body equates to a shortage of the oxygen your body needs to meet the increased demand when you run. Early symptoms of anemia are fatigue and decreased energy. It may become difficult to run as fast or as far as you normally could, or your could find yourself being out of breath much sooner than usual. As the condition progress, you may experience headaches, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, cold hands and feet or chest pain. Some people may not experience any symptoms and aren't aware they are anemic until they do a routine blood test or donate blood.

Recommendation

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Eat a nutritionally-balanced diet that includes plenty of iron-rich foods like liver, red meat, lentils, beans, dried fruits like raisins and prunes, and iron-fortified grains and cereals. Including plenty of vitamin C-enriched foods such as citrus fruits in your diet will help your body absorb iron better. The tannins in coffee and tea prevent iron absorption, so you may want to avoid having a cup with your meals. Iron supplements should not be necessary if you eat a well-balanced diet, but if you decide to take them, check with your doctor first.

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