Preston North End defender Paul Huntington opens up on his battle for fitness after low iron count issue

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Pre-season training is always a testing time for footballers but the first week of Preston North End’s return to work in July was one Paul Huntington found particularly tough.

Being a player who prides himself on staying in good shape, the centre-half knew there was something not quite right.

He had blood tests, the results of which saw him pulled out of training immediately.

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Huntington’s iron levels had dropped alarmingly, leaving him low on energy.

Preston North End defender Paul HuntingtonPreston North End defender Paul Huntington
Preston North End defender Paul Huntington

It meant for the few weeks which followed, he was put on a restricted training programme while the anaemia was treated.

Wind the clock forward, Huntington is fit and well and back in PNE’s 25-man senior squad.

The 34-year-old had just put 90 more minutes in the tank playing for the reserves when he sat down with the Lancashire Post to tell the story of his summer.

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Huntington said: “From about March time I just didn’t feel right, I was really tired and struggling with my breathing.

Paul Huntington in action for North End against ReadingPaul Huntington in action for North End against Reading
Paul Huntington in action for North End against Reading

“I was tested for asthma which came back fine and had a heart scan which didn’t find anything.

“In July I came back for pre-season training, did the first week with all the fitness work but really struggled.

“I’ve worked with Tom Little our fitness coach for nine or 10 pre-seasons and he knows I look after myself – I don’t drink alcohol, I take care of myself during the summer.

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“I had my bloods taken and when the results came back the club doctor told me I had to stop training straight away because my iron levels were half of what I needed to be at.

“It’s the red blood cells which take the oxygen to the muscles.

“So while I was wanting to get there in terms of doing the training, physically I just couldn’t do it.

“For the next couple of weeks I couldn’t do anything, I didn’t go up to Scotland with the squad.

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“They then let me do one half-hour jog a day but just going at 50% of my heart rate on the watch, it was no more than a plod.

“After two weeks of that they let me do the run at 75% of my heart rate.

“I was on tablets three times a day to get the iron levels up, I was anaemic.

“My level was 80 and I needed to be up at 150-160.

“Dominic Lakeland our club doctor told me he was amazed I’d been able to do what I had done in the first week of pre-season because the iron levels were so low.

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“They changed my diet, more red meat, nuts, dried fruit, chick peas, kidney beans – red meat I didn’t normally bother with.

“The iron tablets made the main difference, with the diet change a smaller difference.

“When the iron levels rose I was eventually allowed to run at 100% and then I had two weeks of fitness training.

“I’ve trained for five or six weeks now, played two 90 minutes in the reserves.

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“My first 90 minutes in the game against Walsall came after just a couple of days of full training.

“I feel brand new, really good. Recently I was added to the squad and I was on the bench at Birmingham the other week.

“I do think I’ve still got a role to play both on and off the pitch.

“It might be that I don’t play all the time with me being a bit older, but my experience is there.”

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Huntington and the PNE medical staff were obviously keen to find out what had caused his iron levels to drop so low in the first place.

The investigation involved quite an intrusive procedure.

“I had a camera put down, you have to swallow a horrible drink then the camera goes in,” said Huntington.

“It does the top part and bottom part of your stomach.

“They found a bit of bacteria which could have come from taking painkillers – most players have a niggle or a pain they play through and you tend to take painkillers.

“Maybe a build-up of those caused the bacteria. I had a course of antibiotics for that.

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“The club staff have been really good about it, Dr Lakeland and Tom Little got me through it and explained everything.”

It certainly wasn’t the average summer for Huntington.

While he had the worry of his low iron levels, there was the sheer joy of him becoming a dad in June.

Baby daughter Dolly made her appearance in the world a few weeks earlier than expected, a beaming smile appearing on the defender’s face at every mention of her.

Huntington made the bench for the 0-0 draw at Birmingham last month, his first involvement since last season – one in which he hit the 300-appearance mark for North End.

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For the visit to Queens Park Rangers just before the international break, he was in the travelling party but didn’t make the match day squad.

The trip home from London did allow him to reacquaint himself with some of the PNE fans.

Said Huntington: “With the length of the coach journey being what it was, a few of us got the train home.

“Some of the supporters were on the train and they were saying it was nice to see me back and where I had been. It was just a shame we didn’t get the result.”

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