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Bulletin #101 – Pumping Dietary Iron

An accumulating body of recent re-search points to the fact that many ath-letes, particularly those who include en-durance training in their training pro-grams, are deficient in iron. Specifically, about 10 percent of male athletes are iron-deficient, compared to 22 to 25 percent of females.(1)Deficiencies can occur with aerobics and endurance training. Both activities can actually destroy red blood cells rather than build them up if nutrition is faulty. Many female athletes are at risk of iron deficiency due to blood losses of iron during menstruation . The daily iron requirement for women is 18 mg per day, while on average they obtain only 10-12 mg per day . Because men have lower daily iron requirements, they are somewhat less vulnerable to deficiencies. Many times a feeling of fatigue or low energy is the re-sult of an unrecognized iron deficiency.An iron deficiency, technically known as anemia, should be of concern to anyone who is active for a variety of reasons.

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First, iron is essential for the manufacture of two important proteins in the body: hemoglobin, a constituent of red blood cells that gives them their color; and myoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in muscle cells. Hemoglobin picks up oxygen from the lungs and transports it to the body’s cells where it is used to produce energy from the foods you eat. Myoglo-bin allows oxygen to be consumed inside muscle cells. Without adequate iron, the oxygen delivery system won’t work, nor will oxygen be burned properly inside the cells . Clearly, iron has a central position in producing energy. (2)Another reason that iron is important is because it plays an important role in metabolism, particularly in the metabo-lism of thyroid hormone, involved in in-creasing your metabolic rate, the speed at which your body burns calories. Thus, an iron deficiency may compromise resting metabolic rate, which includes the basal metabolic rate (the energy it takes to ex-ist), plus non-exercise activities like di-gestion, stress responses, reactions to heat and cold, and sitting.

(3) Quite possibly, a short supply of iron may alter your body’s ability to burn fat.If you want to make continued prog-ress in your training and be stronger as a result, you have to feed your body with the iron it needs. Dietary sources of iron are classified into either “heme” iron or “nonheme” iron. Heme iron is chemically bound to “heme” the component of he-moglobin that is responsible for its ability to carry oxygen in red blood cells. Heme also gives these cells their color. Good sources of heme iron are red meat and liver. White meat chicken and turkey breast also contain heme iron but in lower amounts. The advantage of heme iron is that it’s very well-absorbed by the body. About 15 to 20 percent of the iron in red meat and liver is taken up. The problem with these foods, however, is their high fat and cholesterol content. Desiccated liver tablets, such as the Parrillo Liver Amino Formula, are defatted and contain almost no cholesterol, and are excellent sources of readily absorbed heme iron.Plants have a different form of iron, one that is not bound to heme, and it’s called “nonheme” iron.

The body doesn’t absorb nonheme iron as well as it does heme iron. Less than two percent of the iron in spinach is absorbed, for example. In addition to providing heme iron, the Parrillo Liver-Amino Formula also supplies extra protein. This is impor-tant. Here’s the deal: Aerobic training in a protein-deficient state can lead to a condition called “sports anemia,” in which red blood cells and iron levels are reduced. One explanation for this is that aerobic training appears to increase myoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in the muscles. The formation of myoglobin requires protein and heme iron. If protein is in short supply, red blood cells are destroyed to obtain the necessary protein and iron to make myoglobin.In addition, muscle fibers are damaged during training and must be repaired fol-lowing the exercise period. If your protein intake is low, the body draws on red blood cells and blood proteins as a source of protein for muscular repair. When this happens, little protein is left to rebuild red blood cells at the normal rate, and sports anemia can be the result.Clearly, you need ample protein, along with iron. Individual protein needs vary and depend on a number of factors, in-cluding a bodybuilder’s training intensity and level of conditioning.

I’ve seen many bodybuilders improve their physiques by increasing their protein intake up to 2.5 grams per pound of body weight a day nearly seven times the RDA. Based on my experience, hard train-ing bodybuilders can achieve excellent results including muscular hardness by consuming 1.25 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day. One gram per pound of body weight should come from lean protein sources such as white meat poultry, fish, and egg whites; the other .25 to .5 gram per pound of body weight, from all your other foods, particularly high-protein vegetables like beans, corn, and legumes.  The Parrillo Liver-Amino Formula also contains B-complex vitamins. This vita-min group is active in converting carbohy-drates into glucose, which the body burns to produce energy. B-complex vitamins are also involved in the metabolism of fats and proteins . Increasingly, sports nutritionists are recommending that hard-training athletes supplement with iron. For best results, I recommend that you take several liver tablets with each meal. Along with ample protein and ample calories from high-den-sity foods, desiccated liver supplements should help you reach peak levels of per-formance, growth, and recovery.


1. Haymes. 1983. Proteins, vitamins, and iron; in Ergogenic Aids in Sport; ed. Williams; Human Kinetics Publishers.

2. Haymes. 1983. Proteins, vitamins, and iron; in Ergogenic Aids in Sport; ed. Williams; Human Kinetics Publishers; 27-55 .

3. Harris Rosenzweig, P. 2000. Effect of iron supplementation on thyroid hor-mone levels and resting metabolic rate in two college female athletes: a case study. International Journal of Sports Nutrition, Exercise, and Metabolism 10: 434-443

2018-03-13T11:10:29-04:00 July 6th, 2009|Technical Supplement Bulletins|

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