Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Healthy Vegetarian

I consider myself a fairly healthy person. I've been vegetarian my entire life. I try to eat non-processed, fresh foods. And I definitely do not have a perfect diet - I try to only eat frosted flakes 29 days of the month.

Not really. But I do enjoy ice cream and I eat all types of sweets - usually after a balanced meal that includes grains, protein, veggies or fruit. I firmly believe you shouldn't classify any particular food as "bad".

After CA70.3 when I struggled to pull my heartrate up all day on the bike (I averaged 149hr on the bike for those of you who love numbers), Coach ordered some blood tests, worried that my iron was low.

I've now had blood drawn several times and in the process I have learned a lot about iron, vitamin D and the role they play in carrying oxygen around in the blood. I'll share a little of what I've learned and if you have more questions feel free to email me.

 These are human red blood cells. My count is low, mostly from lack of iron among other things.

If you are an endurance athlete who is vegetarian, chances are you may not get enough iron through food alone. Especially if you don't eat fish and seafood (I don't). However - sad as this makes my friends who were very excited to take me out for a big steak - iron levels can be brought back up to normal levels without eating meat.

So now what? Well, I've started taking iron and vitamins B & D. And I've learned if I take iron with calcium or caffeine - the body won't absorb it. (Bummer since I love lattes!) Iron likes vitamin C. Creative problem solving is something I'm good at, so I have learned to spread out the pills and fit everything in. There are of course some foods rich in iron that are not meat-based, most of which I already eat including spinach, cereal, lentils, etc.

Patience is the final thing I am learning. Low iron, ferritin, hemoglobin, etc. will not magically return to normal levels overnight by popping a pill. So I will do what I can and take one day at a time. I'm still planning to race Wildflower in a few weeks and hopefully won't fight with my heartrate on the bike, but if I do at least now I know why.

If you are vegetarian and think you might have low iron I'd recommend asking your doctor to do some blood work.