From world-class athletes to everyday fitness enthusiasts, understanding the role of iron in sports performance and nutrition is paramount.
Iron, a vital mineral in our diet, is a powerhouse when it comes to boosting athletic performance. Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Massey University Dr Claire Badenhorst put its abilities to the test.
World champion New Zealand rugby player and Beef + Lamb Ambassador, Stacey Waaka went up against world-record-holding sheep shearer Sacha Bond in a series of athletic tests last week at Massey University in Auckland.
The challenge, which was facilitated by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Massey University forms a part of World Iron Awareness Week kicking off today with the theme ‘Iron to Move’ – showcasing the important role iron can play in keeping physically active.
Dr. Badenhorst told REX host Dominic George that the tests revealed how a well-structured, iron-rich diet could enhance performance, thus demonstrating the crucial role of iron in athletics.
"It's a key mineral because it is a component of our red blood cells that allows us to transport oxygen around our body," she explained.
"It also helps us store oxygen in our muscles for when we need it to produce energy, but it also forms the component of enzymes in our body, and these enzymes actually speed up the rate of chemical reactions in our body, so it can really help with energy production."
Dr. Badenhorst also dived into the realm of iron deficiency - how to recognize it, diagnose it, and most importantly, how to prevent it.
"The symptoms when you are deficient generally tend to be fatigued. You feel lethargic, you maybe feel quite weak or breathless, maybe you feel a bit dizzy, every now and then a bit lightheaded, maybe lack some motivation, lack concentration, and it's generally fatigue that hangs around for longer than a day or two if you've had a few bad night's sleep."
In the discussion, red meat was highlighted as a powerhouse source of iron, contributing significantly to iron absorption in the body. Both athletes have diets that regularly include red meat such as lamb and beef, which reflected in their performance during the testing.
"Red meat is one of always heme iron, so it's that animal-based iron product and those animal-based sources generally have a higher efficiency and absorption within our gut, so generally it falls in that category, making it a very effective iron-rich food which we can use within our diet," Dr Badenhorst confirmed
She was impressed by Waaka and Bond's performances throughout the testing but concluded that on the night, iron was the true winner.
This fascinating discussion on iron's role in athletic performance and nutrition serves as a valuable reminder that understanding the science behind nutrition can be a game-changer when it comes to enhancing performance, whether you're a top athlete or someone simply looking to improve you're fitness.
As the saying goes, "You are what you eat," and when it comes to athletic performance, an iron-rich diet could make all the difference.
Listen to the full chat between Senior Lecturer of Sports & Exercise Science at Massey University Dr Claire Badenhorst and Dominic George above.