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10 RFT: Run 100m 10 Double-Dumbbell Front Squat Cashout OTM x 8 Odd - Hollow Body Hold Even - Plank
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DONATING BLOOD, ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE, AND IRON INTAKE
By Coach Courtney, RD www.vitalitynutrition.ca
I have been considering donating my blood for a long time. When I thought about ways I could give back to the community I reflected on what is most valuable to me. Time and money are certainly valuable but I don’t value them as much as I value my health. Donating $100 or a couple hours of my time is certainly helpful and generous. But my health is more valuable to me than my money or my time. So how could I donate my health? Blood!
You may be wondering, “Courtney, why is your blood such a valuable possession? It really isn’t a big deal.” But my blood is valuable to my personal goals. I will highlight why below!
Red Blood Cells
Red blood cells are our oxygen carriers and deliver oxygen to working tissues and predicts overall work capacity. The more red blood cells you have the more oxygen you can deliver. Thus, increasing your ability to do work. In fact, many endurance athletes having been caught “doping” where they take a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) which stimulates the synthesis of new red blood cells. This gives them an edge in their sport! Athletes are focused on accumulating as many red blood cells as possible for maximal endurance performance. There's a reason athletes get in trouble for blood-doping, not blood-letting. As an athlete, I have worked hard for my red blood cells. My aerobic capacity and performance are extremely valuable to me!
Our body contains approximately 10 pints of blood, one of which you give away during a “whole blood” donation. There are several components of whole blood including red blood cells, plasma, and platelets (1). Unfortunately for athletes, the oxygen carrier (ie. red blood cells), are the slowest to regenerate taking four to six weeks to fully rebound (2). The lag in red blood cell recovery is an obvious indicator that an athlete endurance will suffer until pre-donation levels of red blood cells are restored (2,3).
Note: athletes constitute a very healthy potential donor population. If you are concerned about donating whole blood, consider becoming a plasma donor. Plasma donation does not affect their red blood cell status and hemoglobin levels (1).
Hemoglobin levels in the blood also decrease after a blood donation which is a critical protein found in red blood cells (2). Hemoglobin functions to transfer oxygen from the lung’s to the body’s tissue. A drop in hemoglobin compromises both the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to working cells as well as oxygen’s ability to dissociate once it arrives. Thus, a decrease to hemoglobin decreases aerobic capacity.
A micronutrient in our food, iron, is a critical component of hemoglobin to optimize delivery of oxygen to muscle cells. Athletes and recreational gym goers alike closely monitor their intakes and percentages of our critical fuel sources – carbohydrates, fats, and protein – but often fall short on micronutrient needs like iron. As we reviewed above, iron plays a key role in the delivery of oxygen to muscles to maximize aerobic capacity! Iron status has the potential to decrease or improve endurance performance depending on an athlete’s iron status (4). In other words, iron is extremely important for atheltes and should be a focus of their nutrition plan and strategies.
Donating my blood was not something I was eager to do. Perhaps it sounds dramatic, but I value my performance in the gym. I have worked hard to build my aerobic capacity. But because I value health, I knew it was a valuable gift I could give to someone in need. The "gift of life" as they say.
How to nourish your body after donating blood
With this background knowledge and physiology, what is the best way to nourish your body after donating blood? Optimizing iron intake! Considering my decrease in blood volume, red blood cells, hemoglobin, and iron status I will be spending the next four to six weeks paying extra special attention to my iron intake! Adequate fluids and rest are important considerations immediately after donating blood. Long-term, adequate iron intake will support the regeneration of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
Iron can be found in both animal and plant foods (5).
Animal sources (called “heme iron”)
Red meat (eg. beef, bison, moose, lamb)
Plant sources (called “non-heme iron”)
Nuts and nut butter
Seeds and seed butter
Dark green vegetables
Fortified products (ie. iron is added to the products to help Canadians get enough)
Cast-iron cookware can increase the amount of iron in foods (6).
What about supplements?
Most individuals can meet iron requirements through food and strategies to enhance iron absorption. Individuals should take iron supplements only if recommended and monitored by a physician (7). Iron Absorption Considerations:
Our bodies absorb heme iron (from animals) best (better than non-heme, plant based sources of iron)
Eating foods rich in heme iron (like meat, fish or poultry) can increase the absorption of non-heme iron.
Adding vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables to meals can increase non-heme iron absorption
Phytates found in foods such as legumes, unrefined grains, and rice can decrease the absorption of non-heme iron * (8).
Polyphenols found in tea, red wine, and many grain products can decrease the absorption of non-heme iron * (9).
Calcium can inhibits the absorption of non-heme iron * (10)
*Vegetarians will not obtain heme-iron sources and should be aware of factors that decrease non-heme iron absorption including phytates, polyphenols, and calcium. Strategies to optimize non-heme iron absorption include:
Pair plant-based, non-heme iron sources with vitamin C rich foods
Drink coffee, tea, and wine between meals instead of with meals
Consume calcium rich food sources, like dairy, at a meal separate from non-heme iron sources
Some examples of food high in Vitamin C:
I already have some great nutrition habits to optimize iron intake! However, over the next 4-6 weeks I will specifically by adding very high sources of absorbable iron and combining them in such a way that enhances iron absorption. My personal "iron plan" for the next month is to:
Include red meat more often from extra lean ground beef, lean steaks, and roasts
Prepare lamb (I have only had lamb once but it is a great source of iron!)
Experiment with recipes for organ meat like liver
Enjoy oysters as a snack
Choose almond butter or pumpkin seed butter instead of peanut butter
Continue to enjoy veggies and fruit with all meals (to add vitamin C to enhance non-heme iron absorption)
Continue to choose dark green leafy veggies like spinach and kale for salads
Purchase a cast-iron pan for cooking omelette and scrambles
I encourage you to review the resource linked on iron to determine sources of heme and non-heme iron that you would enjoying adding to your diet! Remember, vitamin C rich foods can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron.
Donating blood, in my opinion, is an extremely generous gift
If you are an athlete, red blood cells and hemoglobin status will decrease for 4-6 weeks which can negatively impact endurance performance
Consider donating blood during the off-season when training is lighter and performance isn’t an imminent concern or consider donating plasma
Implement strategies to optimize iron intake from heme and non-heme sources to provide your body with the precursors needed to regenerate red blood cells
Vegatarians need to be especially aware of optimizing non-heme iron absorption through specific nutrition strategies
For more information on donating whole blood or plasma click here.
This week I prepared a super easy meat sauce that is high in heme-iron from lean ground beef and non-heme iron from spinach. I served it over spaghetti squash but lentil pasta would provide an additional non-heme iron source. The tomatoes and spinach in the sauce provide contain vitamin C to enhance the absorption of the non-heme (plant based) iron in the recipe!
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 pounds extra lean ground beef
1, 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1, 15 ounce can of tomato sauce*
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute the garlic for 1-2 minutes.
Add the onion and carrots and saute until the onions are transclucent and the carrots soften. You made need to add 2 tablespoons of water if the onions and carrots stick to the pan. I like to use this method to minimize the added oils required to saute the veggies.
Add the ground beef and cook until no pink remains.
Add the diced tomato, tomato sauce, spices, and salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil over high heat for one minute. Then reduce to low and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Serve over lentil pasta, zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash.
* I used a basil flavored tomato sauce from President's Choice. Consider adding fresh or dried basil to the recipe if your sauce does not contain basil! When purchasing tomato sauce, opt for a sauce with no added sugar in the ingredient list. I love the "Tomatoes First" sauce from President's Choice.
Search "Vitality Nutrition Meat Sauce" to add the recipe to your tracking data.
Yields: About 8 Servings (250g each)