Studies indicate that about 20% of long distance runners are suffering from Runner’s Anemia. Many of them don’t know it. They have iron levels that are lower than normal, may experience fatigue, and suffer diminished performance in training and in races.
There are several potential reasons for Runner’s Anemia:
- Increased blood volume resulting from training
- Foot strike hemolysis - destruction of red blood cells caused by your feet hitting the ground
- Loss of iron through sweat and urine
- Blood loss through the gastrointestinal tract
- For women - blood loss from menstruation
Although none of these factors are a major cause for concern, it’s important to have your doctor rule out other, more serious potential causes of blood loss.
I found out that I had Runner’s Anemia a few years ago. My doctor told me that my hemoglobin and serum ferritin levels were low and that analysis of my red blood cells showed that they were smaller than normal and pale in color. He recommended a colonoscopy, which ruled out any serious causes of internal bleeding.
I’m a regular blood donor, donating between 4 and 6 units of blood per year (58 units lifetime). At my doctor’s recommendation, I took a break from donating and started taking (65 mg) iron tablets.
Over a several weeks, my iron levels returned to normal and my training improved. I still donate blood, but time my donations around my marathon race schedule.
If you have been feeling run down, you might want to have your iron levels checked. Don’t take iron tablets without a doctor’s recommendation, as there can be side effects to taking too much iron.
If you have been diagnosed with Runner’s Anemia, tell me about your experience in the comments.