In my early 20’s; I could pummel my body without refuge. I ran a lot back then and paid zero attention to what my body required. I figured if I smashed fifteen red bull vodkas and followed it up with a twenty piece chicken nugget – my body would need roughly 5-7 miles the next day to get back in sync. (mind you, I might puke out my hang over at mile 4 but who gives a shit about the semantics) Nothing ever felt off. If I was tired, I took a nap (where ever mind you, that felt logical at the time). If I felt under the weather, I would slam a carb laden bagel. As an athlete, more was better. And frankly, there seemed to be no consequences. If my performance didn’t suffer then obviously my lifestyle choices were working. Overall, I would say that I was zero percent connected to my body. Fortunately for me, youth hid this for awhile.
Now, I am in my almost mid (what the fuck) thirties and I can’t get away with that shit anymore. If I have two glasses of wine, I am hungover the next day. If I miss a full night of sleep, I will quite literally, imagine how blissful it would be to just fall asleep while driving (is that normal???). And, if I am training for something, my body lets me know when its depleted. I’ve learned in the last year that in order to reach my goals – I need to make calculated decisions about where I go, what I eat, what I do and when/how I sleep. Every thing comes with a price and in order to be well, I need to be extremely connected with my body.
The past few months have been rough. I was struggling with pretty severe anemia and had no idea. I was tired all the time, frequently got sick, I was pale, had what I described as horrible “panic attacks” while running, I couldn’t sleep and I felt run down every single day. It was like a fog had washed over me. I was also impatient, short with 99% of the people I dealt with and intolerant of any behavior that didn’t align with my very specific terms. When I finally found out that none of this was normal and my body has been literally SCREAMING at me for help – I felt so relieved. #1 – because for the first time, my issues had nothing to do with my heart and #2 – because with this information came a solution. And a solution meant I didn’t have to live like this. I talked to my doctors, my coach and my husband. They all had something to contribute. Since I discovered this a few weeks before the marathon, I had a chance of feeling better before my stroll down Boylston.
I had no idea how serious an iron deficiency could be. Nor did I realize the sheer amount of symptoms that come along with it. In the weeks following my discovery, I have worked tirelessly to combat this issue with supplementation and dietary changes. The effect of all these changes? Well, to put it in my coaches words (she has also suffered from an iron deficiency) – I feel awake. My energy has completely turned around. I’m happier (like no joke, I am WAY happier). I look healthier. My workouts feel solid and I’m excited for them. I feel normal. Just being able to say that, is so refreshing.
Athletes are very susceptible to having an iron deficiency and let me tell you, it’s a complicated thing. People who are iron deficient are usually Vitamin C deficient and sometimes Vitamin B/D deficient. If you are eating too many things with other minerals (magnesium for instance); they might be in direct competition with your bodies ability to absorb iron. Drinking caffeine also prevents your bodies ability to absorb iron. Steaming veggies al dente is best because it retains iron (if you are eating iron rich vegetables). I mean – THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS. But, we must pay attention to perform well. Our bodies are complex organisms and when put to the test; they need lots of vital nutrients. While I’m not a professional athlete by any means, I am in constant competition with myself. I want to do well. And for me, that means establishing a deep connection with my body and nourishing it as well as I can.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as simple as: one, two, three. No fix is easy or permanent. And I’ve learned, I can only do what is sustainable and attainable. For now, my goal is to simply pay attention. As much as I can as often as I can. I encourage all of you to do the same – especially if you are logging a lot of workouts or miles.
Here is my go-to iron rich smoothie:
IRON DEFICIENCY SMOOTHIE
1-1/2 cup homemade almond milk (if you buy it look at the ingredients and make sure it is unsweetened!)
1/2 cup spinach
1/2 cup kale
1/2 cup frozen strawberries (surprisingly a good source of Vitamin C)
1/2 a medium sized beet (cut into very small pieces)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 heaping tablespoon of raw cocoa
1 heaping teaspoon spirulina
Blend this all together (you may need more liquid) and drink it fast as fuck. Just kidding! It’s actually not bad at all. The strawberries really save the day.