• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Learning from the trials of triathlete Paula Findlay: female athletes and iron

      October 20, 2012

      Hilary Stellingwerff is coming off her best season yet, after a trip to the London Olympics, where she earned a spot in the women’s 1,500-metre semifinal. But it was a different story in 2008 for the 31-year-old Sarnia, Ont., native, who now trains in Victoria. Back then, she failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics after struggling with iron deficiency.

      “I think that was a case where I was training really hard, but I wasn’t absorbing the iron, and I probably wasn’t as on it as I should have been,” she says. “It just goes to show how quickly it can go down. … I’m lucky my husband is a physiologist.”

      Iron deficiency is not isolated to elite athletes. Stellingwerff’s husband, Trent, who is a senior physiologist at the Canadian Sport Centre-Pacific and also assists as her coach, says an estimated 20% of women are iron deficient. Symptoms include feeling tired, weak and irritable.

      It is more common in female endurance athletes because women lose iron through blood loss from menstruation. Running and intense training can put a strain on the body’s stores of the mineral, and if athletes do not have enough iron in their diet, this (and a variety of other factors) can also lead to deficiency.