Any old iron

I have been running for several years and have always been a blood donor, when I went to my usual session yesterday I was unable to donate as my haemoglobin (sp?) is too low.  This is the first time I ahve ever not been able to donate.  About 6 years ago when I was training hard I did always have results that were a bit borderline but not this low!  I have recently stepped up my training to try and bring down my 10k and half times and am also now swimming twice a week.  Does anyone know if increased exercise levels will increase iron needs?

So the real question is how do I get more iron into my diet?  it's not so low that I need to take a supplement and anyway I prefer to try and do these things without.  I am not a vegetarian and do try to eat a varied and healthy diet although will admit to slipping especially at weekends.  I usually get my 5 a day on week days, perhaps a bit less at weekends but it's usually fruit I eat less then rather than veg (I don't really like fruit much so eat small amounts to be good).

Thanks for any help and ideas!


  • Could be just that your blood volume has gone up because of the training. So your haemoglobin density might go down when the absolute amount in your blood is the same.

    If you feel fine then probably no need to worry.

    Did they not give you a leaflet when your drop misbehaved? I got one a year or two ago, just said what I knew already viz:

    • don't drink tea or coffee with meals or in the hour following (before is OK I think)
    • vitamin C helps iron absorption so e.g. drink O/J with meals 
  • I went to give blood recently and was told that sweating decreases iron. Also that running damages the red blood cells in the feet also leading to iron depletion.  I do take the preventative dose of iron tablets ( ferrous sulphate ) after GP recommended it but I am veggy so that may be why.
  • Calcium, soya protein and substances in some vegetables can inhibit iron absorption, according to my biology textbook (doesn't say which substances or vegetables though). I take a multivitamin: I find if I'm running 30-40 miles a week, I feel iffy without one, however careful I am with my diet - exercise will increase iron needs, and calcium needs (although multivits aren't big enough to have a recommended daily amount of calcium in them, so if you want to supplement for calcium you'll need a separate pill). It's quite easy to overdo iron supplementation though, so check amounts in any supplements.

  • red meat (obviously)

    liver, liver pate

    black puddingimage

    green leafy veg - spinach, broccoli

    fortified breakfast cereals

    black treacle

    dried apricots

  • Thanks al for the advice and tips - esp Fido, I didn't think about blood volume increasing!  I also wasn't aware about drinking tea, I only have 1 cup a day but could cut that out.  I don't drink fruit jiuce but could try and add an extra piece of fruit with a meal for the vit c - am I right in thinking that peppers have quite a good level of vit c?

    K9-  know what you mean about black pudding, but add to that liver, dried apricots and treacle!  Will have to up the breakfast cereal and see if that helps.

  • ClagClag ✭✭✭

    Puffin - perhaps I have a very relaxed blood donor centre, but the nurse advised that in addition to the above, a glass of red wine or some high cocoa chocolate is also good for your iron levels. image Not sure if you're male or female, but from a female perspective she also advised going the week before your period rather than the week of/after to allow the effects of that to be factored out.

    I'm in a very frustrating cycle with it so just haven't been for ages. I go, have a count of 12.3 ish usually with the required being 12.5, the blood gets sent to the hospital lab for further tests, the hospital lab says my blood was fine with the required count and that I should return and then it starts all over again! One day....

  • Puffin - yup, liver isimage but can occasionally enjoy a bit of pate. Treacle can go into gingerbread and ginger biscuitsimage....obviously you'd need a lot of it though to account for the dilution effectimage
  • Clag - if red wine and dark choc are helpful it's extremely unlikely I'll become iron deficientimage
  • I gave up trying to keep iron levels high after years of border line anaemia and resort to ferrous sulphate tablets - one a day - whenever I plan to go and give blood.

    I know this isn't exactly big or clever as it doesn't actually sort the underlying problem.
  • I like the sound of red wine and dark chocolate as a solution Clag, will definately give that a go!  And K9, I'd forgotten about pate, I usually try to avoid it as it's quite high in fat but an occasional amount wouldn't hurt.

  • Guinness!! Half a pint a few times a week, it's full of iron (hence the taste).

  • As Runny Bunny said, be careful how much iron you take in supplement form as overdosing is bad as iron is toxic.

    Fruit & veg have fairly low levels of iron, even those which are high relative to other veg/fruit.  Your body absorbs iron far better through meat sources than through fruit & veg.  Vitamin C does help absorption, so it's good to take some on board when you eat.  Caffiene is an inhibitor, so it's best not to drink caffienated drinks with food.

    I was on max dose iron for 2 years owing to iron deficiency anaemia, so have lots of practice at trying to get the right balance.  I've been off 'the pills' for over a year now, and generally eat as healthy a balanced diet as I can (with a few slipups here & there!).  Seems to be working.

    I'd suggest you mention your hb count to your doc.  They may want you to have a follow up blood test in a couple of months time, just to check there's no underlying problem.  When I was diagnosed, the anaemia had come on so gradually that I wasn't even aware there was an issue.  But with any luck it will merely be a 'blip' for you.  Good luck!

  • I was also refused last time I went to donate- follow up tests by GP showed a low (but not low enough to warrant any action) level.  The blood service do set the bar relatively high.

    Runners anaemia is a recognised condition

  • FF - the woman at the session said that they do and that then level showed was not low enough to warrant a doctor visit, the article is interesting reading. 
  • I have no idea - i do eat;





    Veg - sprouts and carrots. 





    But I've never really tried to focus on iron rich food - just thought it "handled itself".

    But I'm not a doc so what would I know.

  • imageIf mine gets above 11.0 I start turning cartwheels......

    Some people just have low hB levels.

  • Hog-mouseHog-mouse ✭✭✭

    Steak in ale pie followed by gingerbread and custard.

    steak - red meat +iron; ale more iron and other trace minerals; gingerbread made with blackstrap molasses = iron. Custard = yummy.

    failing that a dollpo of blackstrap molasses, great natural energy source to boot.

    LB:  female +  running = low iron. simple really.

  • Would you consider taking spartone? It's a 100% natural liquid iron "supplement". It's ideal to take with half a glass of orange juice to aid absorption (and to mask the very metallic taste!) and is very easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

    I noticed a vast improvement in my tiredness levels and running performance after drinking one sashet a day. Also as it's natural I don't really think of it as a supplement in the same category as vitamin/mineral tablets.

  • Thank you so so much for that info from the BMJ.  

    I was recently rushed to hospital by GP following chronically low iron levels.  I wasnt feeling at all unwell or tired.  This was 5 days before I was due to leave to compete in the Comrades.  The doctors in the hospital told me that under no circumstances should I run, or possibly even fly to south africa, given my iron levels were so low.  I was gutted and had never heard of runners anaemia so accepted their rash judgement and gave up on my 8 months of training.  I have a follow-up appointment next week and I will demand to know why they did not take this into consideration.  I am so angry that the doctors, even knowing that I was a runner, did not take this into consideration and just assumed the worse! 

    Oh and jsut so you know ferrous sulphate supplement tablets make your poo turn black - jsut so you arent alarmed!

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