Tired of Being Tired: How I Optimized My Iron Levels

By Emily Wei, May 6, 2021

Iron_fatigueI previously shared some important information on how to maximize iron absorption and ferritin levels. So now it's time to put this recommendations into action.  I'm going to highlight some of the changes I made in my daily routine to help boost my iron levels. It's important to note that these changes may not be suitable for everyone. It's always best to take a personalized approach and talk with a health professional and make changes based on what you need. Below, I highlight some of the changes that I made to get my iron levels optimized and fight fatigue.

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My iron initiative

In 2013, I felt like I had finally hit my (running) stride. At this point in my life, I was running upwards of 40-50 miles a week, at speeds faster than I had ever run before. With my heart and eyes set on the prospect of the 2014 Boston Marathon, I was feeling unstoppable.

After weeks of crushing my amplified workouts, I literally felt like I had hit a wall. I would consistently come home from classes or runs and collapse on the couch due to sheer fatigue.   My exhaustion consumed me. Even the task of fixing myself some food or jumping in the shower seemed insurmountable. 

I was eating enough. I was hydrating. I was stretching. I was in overall great shape. What could be dragging me down?


Luckily, InsideTracker allowed me to get a glimpse of what was actually going on inside. I thought that most of my biomarkers would be at or near optimal because of my dedication to exercise, nutrition, and overall well-being. But I also knew that this level of fatigue wasn't normal and that I might get some glimpse as to why from these results.  

And the results were enlightening. I was, surprise, deficient in iron. Although I have a background in nutrition and was at high risk for iron deficiency (female, premenopausal, long-distance runner), I thought my non-vegetarian status would would keep my iron levels strong. But, nope. That wasn't enough. I just needed to see how low my iron levels were to believe it. 

It's been a year and a half since getting those results back and, I am now happy to share that my iron and ferritin levels are optimized and my energy is back. I did run the 2014 Boston Marathon, and though I was understandably tired afterwards, I didn’t experience any of those, “can’t even THINK about moving off the couch” periods of fatigue in my training. So exactly what did I do to optimize my ferritin levels?


Supplemented with iron

I began taking an iron supplement about three times a week and did so for a month when I first found out I was deficient. This was a god and effective initial approach for me. However, as someone who is a proponent of “food first”, I have since completely taken myself off iron supplements. I was even able to optimize my ferritin levels after I stopped supplementing with iron. But research shows that iron supplements can be a useful tool to help manage iron levels. 


Added heme-rich (animal) sources of iron

I increased my intake of heme-rich sources. Like many runners, I gravitate strongly towards carbs, carbs, and, oh yes, more carbs!  Previously, I was only eating meat a maximum of four times a month. Now, a variety of heme-rich sources of ironare essential components of my diet. Foods like lean ground beef, ground turkey, salmon, and tuna are some of my staples.

  • Ground beef (90% lean): 4 oz serving provides 14% of the daily value (DV) of iron
  • Ground turkey: 4 oz serving (cooked) provides 12% DV of iron
  • Salmon: 4 oz serving provides 4% DV of iron
  • Canned albacore tuna: 4 oz serving provides 4% DV of iron

It is important to note that all heme-rich foods are from meat sources. But the majority of our iron comes from plant, non-heme sources!  Below, I outline some of the plant-based foods I used to increase my nonheme iron absorption.

Iron Shopping List Copy 2 (1)

Added non-heme (plant-based) sources of iron 

I started paying attention to factors that impact non-heme absorption. I was already eating tons of nonheme rich foods, but that alone wasn’t enough to meet my needs. So I tweaked my diet and played with meal timing a bit in order to maximize absorption of iron from plant-based sources.

  • Oatmeal, which is a great source of nonheme iron, is my go-to breakfast.  I topped it off with some strawberries, which are a great source of vitamin C. Vitamin C increases iron absorption.
  • Foods that contain tannins inhibit iron absorption. Coffee contains tannins. So instead of having my coffee and my oatmeal at the same time, I now try to drink it around two hours before having my oatmeal.

Iron Absorption-1

A personalized approach to improving your iron levels

It is essential to keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” solution to improving iron stats. The methods I used may or may not be best approach for you. To find out if your iron levels are optimal or could be improved, consider testing with InsideTracker. 


Iron out the details to your plan

I’m sharing my story today because it is one of struggle and success. I recognize that we are all set in our habits, and some of these can be incredibly difficult to change. I am thankful that InsideTracker helped me to not only identify my iron deficiency, but also provided actionable recommendations to help get my iron status optimized. My fatigue has disappeared and my athletic performance, energy levels, and mood are all better than ever. I challenge you to get a look at what's really going on inside with InsideTracker.






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