Feeling weak, tired, dizzy, or having trouble concentrating? Your body may not have enough iron (in other words: you may be iron deficient).
Iron deficiency, known as anemia, occurs more frequently in women than men and impacts the amount of oxygen that can travel to your major organs and brain.
Adding iron to your diet can help boost your performance, mood, and readiness.
1. You Should Get About 18 Milligrams of Iron a Day
Female Soldiers, ages 18 to 50 years old, need about 18 milligrams (mg) of iron each day to avoid iron deficiency.
How can you squeeze in 18 mg? Lean red meat, fish, or poultry are good sources of iron.
As a general rule of thumb, the iron from meat and seafood is the easiest for your body to use and absorb.
You can also get iron from plant sources like vegetables and beans—just make sure to add a source of Vitamin C to help your body better absorb the iron.
2. Foods That Contain Iron
Trying to get in your iron today? All it takes is chowing down on one of the following:
- Try a fist-sized portion of lean red meat, fish, or poultry.
- Have a bowl of fortified cereal, such as Total or Product 19, in the morning. Drink a glass of orange juice to help absorb the iron.
- Eat a spinach salad or two slices of whole-grain bread. Pair each option with foods high in Vitamin C (try red and green peppers, kale, broccoli, or mango).
- Dig into a cup of beans topped with veggies. Check out this easy chili recipe for inspiration. Add tomatoes and onions for a boost of Vitamin C.
Female Soldiers who know they’re at risk for anemia or who struggle to meet the recommended amount of iron in their diet (vegetarians, we’re talking to you) should ask their medical health professional about taking an iron supplement.
3. Am I At Risk Of Low Iron Levels?
There are several factors that could put you at risk of having anemia:
- Heavy periods
- Using an intrauterine device (IUD)
- Intense exercise or activity
Have the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) or an endurance event coming up? If the iron-rich foods mentioned above are not a normal part of your diet, consider fueling up before and after the event.
In one study, one in three female Soldiers showed low levels of iron in their blood after basic combat training (BCT).
4. Low Iron Levels Could Impact Your Performance
Iron levels are an important factor in a female Soldier’s physical and mental performance.
In another study, after BCT, women with tapped-out iron stores ran slower and performed worse on cognitive tests compared to women with iron-rich blood.
To maximize your performance, make sure to eat iron-rich foods daily. Find out how to sneak those veggies into your diet.
Want To Test Your Iron Levels?
Ask your medical health professional to order a blood test the next time you get a physical. He or she can check the iron level in your blood and let you know where you stand.
You can also look for free screenings at health fairs or get a free test if you donate blood—just make sure you take steps to keep your iron levels up after giving blood.