Iron Deficiency in Capital’s Female Athletes

Cayli Yanagida, Managing Editor and Wide Load Page Editor

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The beginning of school signals the start of two seasons; Autumn and sports. From football to cross country, volleyball to soccer, all of Capital’s sports teams are working hard to represent our school. When it comes to being an athlete, health is one of the most important factors of concern, especially when it comes to iron intake. Although this is a problem that affects all athletes, iron deficiency is seen to be more prevalent in women, and some of Capital’s girl athletes know of the many issues that iron deficiency can cause.

Iron deficiency occurs when one is not taking in enough iron to support their body. For athletes, who are constantly burning calories and losing iron through sweat and muscle breakdown, it is easy to fall behind in iron intake. Female athletes have another source of iron loss-menstruation-making them more prone to iron deficiency. For some of Capital’s distance runners, iron deficiency has shown to be quite a problem. Grace Playstead, one of Capital’s Cross Country runners, explained about how iron deficiency affected her, saying, “I was very fatigued all the time. I wasn’t recovering from my workouts, and I just felt really tired. At two o’clock everyday, I just wanted to be done and go to sleep.” Playstead continued to speak about how she had gone to get tested for low iron, and found that the levels for ferritin, a major iron storage protein, had been extremely low. “That really affected my athletic performance through the entire cross country season last year,” she said, “and I’m guessing even previous seasons before that as well.”

While Playstead struggled with chronic fatigue, Jen Robertson of Capital’s soccer team had a different experience. “I was stressed and worried all the time, and it made me unfocused.” As a goalie, Robertson found focusing on the game to be hard, and was unable to stop some goals from passing into the net.

For some athletes, iron deficiency can be even harder to navigate due to eating restrictions. “I’m vegetarian,” said Amber Gajadhar, who dances for Capital’s Dance team, “so it was a little bit harder because I had to make sure that I was able to find iron in plants rather than eating red meat.” Gajadhar then explained how she had to change her diet, adding in more protein-rich foods that could sustain her through the dance team’s season.

Although iron deficiency can be devastating, recovery is not impossible. Taking iron supplements or finding other sources of iron can help with raising ferritin levels and help an athlete reach their full potential. This deemed true for Playstead, who only rose after her diagnosis. “I had a huge break through, and all of a sudden, I was running times that were three minutes faster at the end of the season than before.” With replenishing her iron supply and staying healthy throughout the off-season, Playstead was able to have a great track season and returned to long distance running with ease. Gajadhar was able to raise her iron through supplementing, as well as a change in diet, and Robertson recovered through acknowledging that she was iron deficient, and working to become healthier.

When it came to advice that could be given to newer athletes, Playstead recommended supplementing. “In the field of medicine, iron deficiency is a relatively new concern for female endurance athletes, so a lot of doctors are not super familiar with the concept of iron deficiency anemia in athletes. I would say it is important to be on an iron supplement unless it’s already been predetermined that you don’t need it.” For Gajadhar, her advice to vegetarian athletes was to focus on diet and make sure iron levels stayed consistent.

Finally, Robertson focused on her sport as a whole. She acknowledged how her first step to recovery wasn’t just supplementing, but also being less harsh on herself for letting in goals. “As a goalie, you may have let in a goal, but it isn’t completely your fault,” she said. Her recovery, as well as Gajadhar’s and Playstead’s, show that although iron deficiency is an important problem that should not be left undiscussed, recovery is always possible.

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Iron Deficiency in Capital’s Female Athletes