Frequent Blood Donations and Injury Recovery

I’m currently reading Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield and although I don’t think I’m the target audience for the book (endurance athletes) or agree with a lot of what he writes, I did land on a gem of an idea.

Ben writes about how endurance athletes can deplete their iron levels through high levels of training and this could cause injuries or slow their recovery. A quick search confirms all this information, as well as the fact athletes, require more iron than the general population. I’m no longer an endurance athlete, so why should I care?

With a few exceptions, I’ve been donating a pint of blood every 8 weeks for 9 years. In the past year, I have either hit the lowest iron level possible to donate or I’ve been turned away for being just under. In my quest to get my 5-gallon pin for the state of Washington, I have been “studying for the test”, by eating sunflower seeds and orange juice for a few days prior, just to bump up my iron levels for the test.

Note that my iron levels are not low. They are just a bit too low to donate. About two years ago the iron level required to donate was increased here in Seattle. Not to help the recipient of the blood, but so the person donating is still healthy after donating a pint.

I started actively donating blood not only to help others but to help myself. Now, I may have pushed it too far. As of now, I’m going to reduce my blood donations from 6.5 a year to 2. I’ll also make more of an effort to pair iron-rich foods with Vitamin C rich foods. If bumping up my iron levels helps me recover faster, that would be great. It is worth a try.

Has anyone had experience with increasing iron levels to increase recovery times or reduce injuries?

iron

Finding Fitness Focus

Whenever I take on too many fitness goals, I lose focus. It is much easier to direct energy in one direction than several. When my primary goal was losing weight or doing knee rehab, I made progress. However, in the last two months, I’ve stalled. The reason is I’m trying too many things.

My current fitness goals:

Increase muscle

Back in August, I got excited about increasing muscle via higher training volumes. During the past 5 years, I have been going through the motions at the gym as I deal with a knee issue. Now that my knee is 80-90% better, I want to recapture the gains I had earned when my knee was 100%.

Increasing volume has been a challenge, as I’ve developed golfer’s elbow which was likely a result of adding too many pull-ups to my routine. High volume has been interrupted.

Cardio Rediscovered

Then the cardio story caught my eye. I’ve been gradually adding some elliptical work with success.

Winter Bodybuilder Diet

Last winter, I was able to stay lean following a peasant diet (higher carb), but now that I’m leaner I know I’ll need a more bodybuilder diet (higher protein) to maintain. So far, I’m doing fine here, but this will be my first winter following a higher protein diet. I think I’ll be fine here, but I do need to be aware of holiday temptations and the reduced-activity I have with shorter days.

Fasting Mimicking Diet

July was the last month that I attempted a 5-day Fasting Mimicking Diet. I made 4 days. I needed to solve for heat before I tried the FMD again. And I did that recently. I joined a gym with a sauna. As I type this post, I am on Day 3 of an FMD and I feel much better thanks to the daily sauna visits.

Nagging Pains

As I mentioned above, I developed a case of Golfer’s Elbow from pull-ups that is taking a long time to heal. I got a lot of advice recently and the consensus is to let it heal and don’t perform any lifts that might aggravate it.

My left knee never gets to 100% healed. I’ll get 90% fine and then it will drop back to 70%. This is putting a brake on the leg workouts I’d like to do.

I Need a Plan

As much as I would love to use the winter months to get jacked on high volume lifting, my elbow and knee are not going to allow that at this time. Maybe not all winter.

Cardio is fine and I will ease into it, but it doesn’t capture the motivation that gaining muscle and getting lean do.

I’ll probably just stay in this holding pattern for another month or two and see what happens. It really sucks that my motivation far exceeds my recovery rate.

Focus

Photo by Stefan Cosma

Cardio Motivations and Expectations

Earlier this month, I discovered I was likely wrong about cardio and explained how I arrived at that decision in the post Understanding My Bias AGainst Cardio. I was persuaded by the case made by Dr. Kenneth Jay, which I mentioned in the post Searching For the Cardio Code. After those two posts, I got some great ideas for getting started with cardio in the comments of Starting Over in Cardio.

Now I want to discuss what I expect and don’t expect to happen from adding cardio.

#1 Cardio as Heart Insurance

For me, the main benefit I gathered from my brief exposure to this topic is having a heart that is stronger in that cardio zone will benefit me greatly as I age. Now, this is something that I will not know is effective for decades and even then I won’t be certain. But as long as I don’t push it too far, which there is little risk of that, I should benefit.

I’ll trust the process here.

Espresso machine from Heart in Portland. 

#2 Cardio as a Mild Energy Booster

I have a high degree of energy already, but I’ll be interested to see after a few months of conditioning, will I have more energy? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect if I do, the effect will be minor

Remember, it is not like I am a lazy slob with no fitness background going into cardio. I’m approaching this from 20+ years of weight training and someone that consistently gets the 10,000 steps a day. So the additional benefit I will get from cardio will be far less than others.

This item is unknown and I consider it an experiment.

#3 Cardio For Fat Loss

On this item, I do not believe cardio holds any benefit on fat loss over the long-term. In the short-term, absolutely. But, appetite always rises to meet activity expenditures real or predicted. At the point when you are the level when you can do the most cardio for long periods will also be the period your appetite will be the highest.

Don’t get sick or injured or change your schedule in any way that reduces your commitment to cardio!

Of course, that statement is ridiculous, which is my point. Counting on cardio for fat loss is a poor bet. Get lean in the kitchen and recognize more cardio will increase hunger levels.

Most people approach a cardio workout plan with visions of getting leaner. Not me. I see the opposite case where an increase in appetite exceeds the calorie deficit earned during exercise as more likely. Not in the short-term, but eventually.

Thankfully, if this happens to me, I know how to use potatoes and high-protein to suppress appetite to keep my weight in check.

#4 Sweat

I almost never break a sweat in the gym. It has been a point of pride that I can show others that my level of leanness and strength was all accomplished in the kitchen and weight-room. No cardio needed.

Although I may not have needed to sweat at the gym, sweating is an important pathway for detoxification. I cover that in the April post, Detoxification Notes (Science Not Woo-Woo).

I just joined a new gym that not only has many cardio options, but also a sauna. I’ll likely be sweating more in the sauna, but I will be breaking a sweat doing cardio as well, which is healthy.

Summary

In short, I suspect the benefits I’ll get from cardio will be minor in the near term but could be much more decades from now.

I suppose I could pay for tests to measure things, but that isn’t my style. I’m going to trust that my heart will be more healthy and few toxins leave through my sweat. If I get a little more energy, great, but I don’t expect anything. And I certainly don’t expect to see a sustainable reduction in body fat.