I would not consider myself your typical graduate student. I am a 22-year-old who recently relocated from North Carolina to Boston to study nutrition at Tufts University. I run marathons, work out every day, give blood regularly, and am a picky, but healthy eater. I will not lie and say I do not enjoy my victory pizza or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream after a successful marathon because I do, but when I follow a strict daily food routine, I consider that my reward.But on every other day of the year, you can find me packing my lunch, carrying around healthy snacks, and eating small meals constantly throughout the day because, after all, I am training for my recent qualification and acceptance into the 2012 Boston Marathon.
I consume well over the recommendation of fruits and whole-grains, as those foods are the ones that fuel my energy levels the most. However, my fault lies within the fact that I do not eat a lot of protein. Sure, there are many ways to consume protein but, like I said, I am a picky eater. I have not eaten red meat in eight years and only about twice a week will you see me eat chicken or turkey. I will not even touch any type of fish or shellfish.
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On paper, I look like a pretty healthy 22-year-old female who follows nutrition guidelines exactly. I eat limited protein, lots of fruits, actually enjoy vegetables, and eat healthy carbohydrates all while running daily and being as active as possible. So when I got my blood work done for InsideTracker from Segterra, I did not expect to find any off markers.
This was not the case as the types of foods you eat within those specific categories are what truly create your results. Understanding your blood work and what it means for you is a very powerful process. To find that I have extremely elevated creatine kinase and triglyceride levels was shocking but that could be in part due to my non-stop training episodes and not enough recovery time and perhaps over-consumption of carbohydrates as my main source of energy. These two markers sparked my attention, but not entirely. Everything else weighed in on a positive scale except for one drastic marker that directly affects my day-to-day lifestyle: ferritin, or better known as iron, which diverted all of my attention.
Iron is so important and does so much for your health. Iron helps to form the oxygen in your blood to carry it throughout your body and is necessary for energy production, two key things to sustaining life. In addition, there is a direct correlation between blood iron levels and athletic performance. However, I have been under the assumption that my iron levels were just fine considering I was achieving the above without any problems. When I donate blood, my iron levels need to meet a minimum of the agency’s and they always tell me I have great iron counts so why would I think twice? I never took a step back and asked what those levels actually were. Was I really that sufficient in iron that I did not have to worry about it or take the day off from running to replete my stores? These are things I never even thought about until now.
Granted, I do not eat meat but I eat plenty other non-heme sources of iron from peanut butter to raisins several times a week to make up for that fact. So when my InsideTracker analysis showed that my personalized optimum iron level should be above 40 ng/mL, and my blood levels were way below that, I was a bit concerned. I am embarrassed to say I never put running and iron levels together until just this year from my classes at Tufts and after reading the blog on iron and performance on the InsideTracker website. Thankfully, this test helped me see something I never would have otherwise known. Perhaps I am the epitome of an iron deficiency being a woman of childbearing age, a runner, and someone who does not consume an adequate amount of protein. But now what do I do?
This question has really put me in a standstill. What is the best option? While telling me I should not run, donate blood, or to eat red meat is not an option where does that leave me? An iron supplement? InsideTracker has given me multiple food options that contain high amounts of iron or the option of supplements, which will ultimately produce lifestyle changes. From these options, I have chosen to take a supplement, as that is my best option for the time being. I will begin taking a daily supplement of iron, as well as pay closer attention to the amount of iron I am actually consuming in food every day and see where that leaves me until I get an updated blood test through InsideTracker.
Until now, I thought I was doing the best I could for my health, when in reality my low iron level has been preventing me from my best. I hope to see a direct response from increasing my iron stores and improving my overall health to my performance debut in the 2012 Boston Marathon.