When we practice, or compete, blood cells break down. A study conducted by the Italian Swimming Federation, designed to measure the hemoglobin or iron stores in the blood, before and after racing showed that 10% of elite swimmers experienced lower levels of hemoglobin after racing. The researchers called this swimmer anemia. Swimmers are at greater risk of developing anemia due to the intense endurance based training.
Iron is lost through sweat, skin, urine, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and menstruation. According to Dr. Elissa Rosen's blog on gaudianiclinic.com, "Exercise, particularly high intensity and endurance types, increases iron losses by as much as 70% when compared to sedentary populations."
And as more athletes move to a plant based, meatless diet Iron deficiency will likely increase as a necessary concern. In fact the USA Swimming, FINA and the International Olympic Committee recommend routine screening for iron deficiency. Contact your physician to have your iron and vitamin levels tested. Being low or deficient in other vitamins, such as B12, Vitamin D, or Vitamin C can actually lead to anemia.
Increasing iron in the diet is an important step in avoiding iron deficiency. But once you have reached the point of anemia, food alone will not be enough to replenish iron stores. Dietary changes, supplements and even in some cases, blood transfusions are necessary to restore iron levels back to healthy levels.
Contact a Sports nutritionist or dietician to help you find ways to increase dietary iron intake and absorption.
Remember, the best way to combat anemia is to get tested.
Be aware of the symptoms.
Recognize that if you are sweating you are losing vital minerals and nutrients.
Don't skip meals.