Most fitness professionals know that exercise can put stresses on the body that ultimately increase one's daily nutrient needs. Athletes and other active people know that they need to monitor their carbohydrate, protein and fat intake and stay hydrated to support their demanding workouts. They realize that a lack of carbohydrates can hurt performance and that without protein the body is susceptible to infection, loss of lean body mass and fluid imbalances.
What many fit people often fail to take into account is their daily intake of key vitamins and minerals, which are essential to support the body's ability to exercise intensely. One essential nutrient that often goes unnoticed until it becomes problematic is the mineral iron.
Iron's Role in the Active Body
Iron plays a key role in oxygen transport and fuel utilization (Schumacher et al. 2002). Did you know that the mineral is also indispensable for the following bodily functions?
* Iron is essential for the synthesis of hemoglobin and myoglobin, the proteins that transport oxygen to the blood and muscle, respectively (Burke & Deakin 2000).
* It is a crucial component of the electron transport system that controls the energy release from cells (Burke & Deakin 2000).
* It is involved in DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.
* It acts as a catalyst against harmful free-radical production (Burke & Deakin 2000).
But how exactly does this mineral affect peak physical performance? When an athlete operates without adequate iron, less oxygen is delivered to the muscles, maximal oxygen consumption (V[O.sub.2]max) drops, and physical performance suffers (Rockwell & Hinton 2005). Additionally, too little iron may impair immune and other physiological functions (Beard & Tobin 2000).
The Iron Depletion Process
Although iron depletion is a continuous process, it can be categorized into three stages:
* depletion of iron stores (but with functional iron unchanged)
* early functional-iron deficiency without anemia
* iron deficiency anemia (Burke & Deakin 2000; Rockwell & Hinton 2005)
In the first two stages, hemoglobin stores appear normal and iron depletion can easily go undetected or is often dismissed asbeing insignificant; nevertheless, low iron stores can be detrimental to athletic performance (Rockwell & Hinton 2005).
The final stage of iron depletion is anemia, which is defined as a low hemoglobin concentration in the blood, regardless of the cause (Beard & Tobin 2000), Clinical symptoms and the overall effect on performance capacity can vary between individuals at each stage of the iron depletion process, but symptoms may eventually include reduced endurance capacity, lethargy, poor concentration, irritability and increased risk of injury (Rockwell & Hinton 2005).
Testing Iron Depletion
Iron status is determined by blood testing. If a client's initial test indicates low iron status, the...
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