I've been using a program (MyFitnessPal) to track my diet and have noticed a slightly disconcerting trend: it always says I am below 100% of my daily recommendation of iron.

My current diet regiment has 2 rules: 130+ g/day of protein and no more than 2k calories (even on heavy (1-2 hours) cardio days). The reason for the latter is I am in a cutting phase, aiming for a single digit body fat percentage.

What can I do to up my iron intake? Are pills going to be required? Do I need to start eating round steaks again? Beans... seriously, beans?

  • 1
    How are you getting 130g of protein and not getting enough iron? What are your sources of iron, and how much is heme versus non-heme based?
    – JohnP
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:26
  • I don't know. The program just gives me a percentage and it was always below 100%. Protein comes from whey, chicken and egg whites.
    – Merritt
    Jul 17, 2012 at 3:03
  • 1
    @Merritt Why no yolks? There be iron, matey. Jul 17, 2012 at 13:16
  • I have added 2 fried eggs daily since hitting a more bulking-esque phase. So about 7-10 eggs daily, 2 with yolk.
    – Merritt
    Jul 19, 2012 at 19:16

1 Answer 1


Let's note that you are not, to our knowledge, experiencing a physiological iron deficiency. Your program is reporting a deficiency of iron in your diet. These are distinct issues, and the latter does not yet suggest a need for supplementation.

The first and easiest steps are:

  • Increase your dietary intake of animals, such as with meat and milk and eggs
  • Use iron cookware

NB: the latter will, I expect, not be recorded by your program.

NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements notes the difference between heme and nonheme iron:

Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells. Heme iron is found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish, and poultry. Iron in plant foods such as lentils and beans is arranged in a chemical structure called nonheme iron [9]. This is the form of iron added to iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods. Heme iron is absorbed better than nonheme iron, but most dietary iron is nonheme iron [8].

They then present tables comparing heme and non-heme iron derived from various foods.

It's also interesting to keep in mind the amount of iron you actually use is different from the amount you ingest, due to the body's autoregulation. Per Wikipedia:

The amount of iron absorbed compared to the amount ingested is typically low, but may range from 5% to as much as 35% depending on circumstances and type of iron. The efficiency with which iron is absorbed varies depending on the source. Generally the best-absorbed forms of iron come from animal products. Absorption of dietary iron in iron salt form (as in most supplements) varies somewhat according to the body's need for iron, and is usually between 10% and 20% of iron intake. Absorption of iron from animal products, and some plant products, is in the form of heme iron, and is more efficient, allowing absorption of from 15% to 35% of intake.

  • Thanks for the input. I don't really understand what the percentage represents, but your brief but informative answer has given me the basic knowledge I need approach my iron considerations in the future.
    – Merritt
    Jul 17, 2012 at 3:05

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