Blood Testing: Data to Change Your Performance from Good to Great

Two runners on snowy forest road in the morning

Written by Elizabeth Inpyn, Founder of INPYN Nutritional Coaching

I’m always amazed at how focused triathletes are with mountains of data, yet ignore the one piece of information that may truly change their performance, and their life. With blood testing, athletes can open a window to the inside of their body to track, analyze, and understand their biochemical status.

A full panel blood test will provide a massive amount of information, including how you can optimize your body using simple training, nutrition, and even lifestyle changes. Everyone’s blood contains biomarkers, measurable substances that have biological effects on the body’s function. Science has shown that biomarkers can reveal your body’s true health status.

By measuring biomarkers in the blood, scientists can study what’s going on inside your body accurately and objectively. The more details you know about your biomarker results, the more useful the data is. In triathlete terms- no one uses a watch anymore that just records time- we want multiple data points (biomarkers) like pace, heart rate, power, cadence, watts and so on. InsideTracker is like the Garmin 920 of watches – the most advanced, feature-rich, training tool on the market.

Building a History
You need data to build an honest history, otherwise that history can morph into “well, I think my cholesterol is ok” or “maybe something has changed since last year, but I really don’t know.” Think of blood testing like a training log- by taking multiple samples through the year, year after year, you can look back and see what was going right, what was going wrong, and what factors may have influenced your training and racing results.

I recommend testing three times a year. Why? You need a minimum of three data points to see a trend, and retesting confirms that the attempted change was effective or adhered to.

Was Vitamin D low? Did your weekly supplement help raise that level or should a stronger intervention be applied? Another important factor is that biomarkers are dynamic, meaning

they are susceptible to change for various reasons. Therefore, testing one time with an extensive panel  is not as smart as testing the most useful biomarkers repeatedly throughout the year. As the off-season gets underway, now is the perfect time to begin capturing how your body has handled a year of intense and often unending swim, bike, run. You can use this data to build a plan for training and racing in 2017.

Personal Analysis
I like to call this the ‘running shoe paradigm’ – there is no one general shoe recommendation that can be applied to all runners; because you are female, between the ages of 16 and 35 and run 10-60/miles a week you should wear this one shoe and be good to go. There are huge differences in age, running history, form, and mileage. The standard blood tests that your doctor orders will focus on whether or not you are sick, and if you fall within a norm of the general population. While it’s nice to know if you’re generally ‘healthy,’ this doesn’t do much for long-term racing success. Some biomarker data, however, can reveal the overall state of your wellness and your athletic fitness. In addition, blood analysis should tell you exactly what your results are – and how they compare to other people similar to you.

Sure, it’s good to be inside the normal range on your blood test. But when “normal” is the same for a 24-year-old athlete as it is for a 70-year-old retiree, it doesn’t tell you very much. Your blood analysis should include a personalized optimal zone based on your age, gender, activity level, and even your sport. InsideTracker tailors recommendations to your background, lifestyle, and food preferences. Their online portal records all of your data and allows you to watch the progress over time and measure the effectiveness of your actions.

Competitive Edge
As an athlete you are always looking for an edge, hoping to find at least one thing to help you overcome challenges and gain a competitive edge. After all, there is a reason the sports supplement industry totaled over $9 billion in 2015. Athletes are determined to unearth that magic pill, powder, or gel that will carry them across the finish line faster than everyone else. Here is the big secret- healthy blood equals incredible results. Optimizing vitamin and mineral levels will improve performance more than any supplement ever could – as a matter of fact, it’s exactly what most of them aim to do!

One example that illustrates how important adequate levels of minerals in the body can be is iron. Iron is the key component of hemoglobin, the iron-containing oxygen-transporter in red blood cells. Hemoglobin’s primary function is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, brain, and digestive system where it releases the oxygen for cell use. Optimal levels of hemoglobin improve strength, increase endurance, and enhance overall aerobic performance. When your iron is low, you feel fatigued, workouts that were good standbys become demanding, and performance falters.

Better Training – Recovery
Athletes don’t improve while training, but rather only once you have recovered from the session and your body has rebuilt itself slightly better. This, supposedly, is common knowledge, yet all too often I see people only worry about the work side of things and never about the recovery aspect. High cortisol, low vitamins and minerals, and hormonal imbalances all lead to poor recovery, weakened training, and often a season of mediocre performances. By testing your blood, you gain the opportunity to make dietary changes on the spot that will make you a fitter, faster, and stronger competitor.

Injury Prevention
Screening your blood can rule out many potential problems that could happen down the road. Early blood testing enables you to deal with the problem or at-risk areas when they are small – before you dig yourself into a hole. Every single training session you do adds stress to the body.

Overtraining, in its early forms is often unrecognizable as a medical condition as no symptoms may appear. Slowly the effects on your body creep up – loss of your monthly cycle for women, elevated cortisol, muscle strains, poor sleep, and dehydration. This is a recipe for disaster and the fastest way to get yourself sidelined for the season.

The use of blood testing, analysis, and interventions for improvement is one of the most important elements of a winning training plan. Our internal chemistry leaves clues in our blood that are quick and convenient to measure, and those results have both immediate and long-term impact on our health and performance. Scientific research is revealing how diet, training, and sleep can impact our bodies. By screening and doing analysis of our blood, we can find what we need to improve with simple changes. Blood testing is a golden opportunity to look under the hood of the human vehicle and do the necessary maintenance for ultimate performance.

About the Author: Elizabeth Inpyn founded her company on the premise that science, not fads, provides the strongest foundation for achieving quantifiable results. She has a Master of Science in Sports Nutrition and a Master of Education in Health Sciences. Inpyn Nutritional Coaching works with endurance athletes all over the world to help them train and race faster, smarter and longer. She designs individual, customized nutrition plans based on current research, blood test results and personalized data. Her ultimate achievement comes by making a difference in athletes lives and helping them to achieve the body, long-term health and performances they dream of. The company mantra is “Eat and train smarter, not harder”.