Iron is an important component of a healthy diet, and it has many benefits for exercise. But do bodybuilders need more iron? And if so, how should they attempt to increase their iron intake? This article will help you to find out what strategy is best for you.
Bodybuilders require more iron than sedentary people because so much iron is lost through increased sweating during a workout. Luckily, increasing your iron intake can be achieved easily through diet, with iron supplementation as a last resort.
Now that you know the answer to whether bodybuilders need more iron or not, let’s take a more in-depth look at why this is and how best to fix this issue.
Exercise has many benefits, it can make you healthier, stronger, and it can also help clear your mind. There are few downsides. However, it should be noted that many elite athletes are more susceptible to colds and flu than sedentary people.
This is because exercise can massively deplete the vitamins and minerals in your body. This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that athletes need much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than the general public.
The same is true for bodybuilders. A typical bodybuilder will exercise for 40-90 minutes per day, even more, if they are using performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. This workout routine will lead to a lot of sweating, and it can therefore lead to higher use of iron by the body.
To avoid a deficiency, bodybuilders should look to increase their iron intake through dietary changes.
Is iron loss just something for bodybuilders to worry about? What about regular lifters? Do you need more iron if you exercise once or twice per week? The answer is that it all comes down to your diet. Adding any form of exercise to your week could see a small drop in iron levels, but if your diet has sufficient iron then you are unlikely to see much change.
Most adults who eat meat will have enough iron in their diet. Though women may need to increase their iron intake during menstruation. Vegetarians and vegans may need to find more iron in their diet if they have just taken up exercise, as meat is such a good source of iron. If you have problems with iron absorption (celiac or Chron’s disease for example) then you may also need to increase iron, though talking to a dietician or doctor should be your first step.
The truth is that regular exercise should not lead to a noticeable decrease in iron for the vast majority of the population. Provided your diet is well balanced, and you are not suffering from illness or disease. Bodybuilders and elite athletes are a different matter due to the higher intensity of their workouts. If, however, you are not a bodybuilder but train at a high intensity almost every day then you should consider getting your iron levels checked.
Any form of exercise can deplete iron. As we have already established, iron is lost through sweat, urine, and blood loss. This quote from Elissa Rosen’s blog post on iron deficiency in athletes sums up exactly why athletes require more iron:
Athletes lose more iron due to heavy sweating as well as increased blood loss in the urine and GI tract. Red blood cells also break down more quickly in those who exercise.
The main thing to consider is how hard you are training and how often. A small amount of weightlifting will deplete iron, but not to a great extent. But constant weightlifting at a high intensity can lead to a large shift in iron loss which will need to be countered through your diet.
The most obvious solution appears to be taking an iron supplement as this is quick and easy to do. But as with most vitamins and minerals, it is better to try and increase your iron intake through dietary changes. This is because the iron will be absorbed better, there are many additional nutrients to be found in iron-rich foods, and it is harder to accidentally over-consume iron through diet.
Foods that are high in iron include:
Looking through this list, you can probably think of several meals and snacks that will help to raise your iron levels naturally. A chilli with lean beef mince, beans, and some spinach.
Low iron levels can lead to increased fatigue, a lower VO2 max, and therefore reduced exercise capacity. Your body will not be as efficient at delivering oxygen to your muscles and your endurance will suffer. In other words, yes low iron will affect your muscles.
I have to be careful with how I answer this, in case people start going crazy with the iron supplements in the hope of superior gains! The bodybuilding world can be a little annoying in this regard. You want adequate iron intake to allow you to train at maximum intensity.
But taking more iron than you need will not lead to bigger muscles. Iron is necessary for building muscles but it does not directly contribute to muscle mass in the way that whey protein or creatine might. If anything, excess iron intake is a bad thing that can lead to several nasty side effects.
While there is a chance that a bodybuilder may be low in iron after weeks of high-intensity training. The likelihood is quite low. There are several reasons for this. While iron deficiencies in elite athletes are possible, they usually affect young women (who are also going to be menstruating).
Bodybuilders tend to eat a lot of calories and are less likely to be vegetarian or vegan. An iron deficiency is possible during a cut phase (diet), but it can be easily avoided by eating more of the foods mentioned above. If you are a female bodybuilder, then there is a higher risk of iron deficiency, and you should consult with a dietician to help you manage this through your diet.
If you are an older reader and fancy getting into bodybuilding, then why not check out my article on bodybuilding in your 40s?
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.