The saying if it’s not broke don’t fix it seemed to hold merit. I was feeling well, training well and racing well. But what if I could be doing even better? What if something wasn’t broke but just not as good as it could be? I haphazardly became aware of InsideTracker
(those syringe pens really caught my eye) through a tweet from fellow Haute Volée Andie Cozzarelli. The scientist in me definitely had her curiosity piqued. I decided I would take a look on the inside and see what my blood would reveal about my state of health and fitness. This is after all something I’ve wanted to do for some time but with new rules and regulations making it impossible to do through the USOC Training Center I hadn’t followed through.
I decided to jump on this opportunity and see how my body was functioning at a more metabolic level. Yes it would involve a dreaded encounter with a needle but the potential to gain information was worth it. I consulted with Jonathan from InsideTracker who advised me to sample 4x a year once during each key phase of training. We would start the first sample collection right at the end of my off season, when I was just coming off of little to no training; poor eating habits, and not prioritizing sleep in my daily life. Essentially this would be me at my worst.
Sept 26th I had my blood draw late that morning around 9:30am. The test was performed under fasting conditions meaning I was not to eat in the previous 12hrs. Unfortunately due to my geographic location (NY) I am not allowed to get a blood draw at a local Quest Diagnostic Center for InsideTacker to analyze but luckily InsideTracker offers a “white glove service” where a trained phlebotomist performs a blood draw at your house! The phlebotomist who drew my blood did a phenomenal job and the prick was ever so slightly noticeable (did I mention that I am TERRIBLE with needles).
Before even getting the results I was already gaining insight! InsideTracker affords the opportunity to self-input previous blood work results. I added results from my recent May test as well as last year in July as well as two previous tests in 2013, and one in 2011. This is still a small sample size but already some things became very clear. For starters my WBCs while always in a normal range where definitely out of my own personal normal range this past May. In hindsight this makes perfect sense with how I felt and reaffirms that something was very off when I raced in Rome and wound up DNF’ing (not finishing the race). I wish I had been aware of this service back then as I feel it may have allowed me to get to the root of the problem several weeks sooner and gotten a few additional workouts under my belt.
Additionally, just from inputting previous results I could see that some biomarkers had improved rather steadily since August 2013, for instance my Iron Group (includes: Ferritin, Hemoglobin, Iron, blood Iron binding level, total iron binding capacity, hematocrit, MCV, MCHC, and MCH). This was encouraging because October 2013 is when I started supplementing with iron.
The timing of receiving my newest result was not only quick (three days) but also perfect as I was away at a Summit and happened to see the nutritionist I have worked with over the years from the USOC. While InsideTracker provides their own target range for each bio marker tested its good to get the perspective of someone who knows you and your more specific training and nutritional needs. While InsideTracker requires you to fill out a questionnaire about your fitness routine, eating habits and preferences and daily lifestyle choices like sleep and stress it is not perfect but does allow you to evaluate a lot of variables that influence one’s state of health. InsideTracker uses this info to make personalized nutritional and lifestyle suggestions. It takes into consideration personal eating prefernces such as being vegetarian or not like a particular type of grain etc etc. It also always you to customize what areas you want to prioritize improving and helps you devise a nutritional plan to reach your goals.
Major take always:
1) It appears I have well recovered from a long and exciting season of training and racing. This is evident in my Iron group. Alicia told me not to get too excited about my boost in RBC as is it is most likely due to less foot-strike hemolysis (more appropriately named exertional hemolysis) that accompanies my training (yes one study done with men who ran 60k showed this not to be the case). The good news is my body has adequate levels to begin more rigorous training again. My hematocrit was the highest it’s ever been and I think I was reasonably hydrated that morning. She explained this is most likely due to time off and my body is once again recovered as endurance training can actually lower one’s hematocrit.
2) It’s time to add a new supplement. To say I am leery about taking supplements is an understatement. As an athlete who is subject to both random and routine drug testing and fully understands I am 100% responsible for what I put in my body, I am beyond afraid of ingesting a supplement that is cross contaminated and failing a drug test. This isn’t easy to do, but it has happened to athletes. Please don’t think that “natural” or “organic” can be equated with clean and untainted. There is no FDA regulation of the supplement industry. But my results have consistently shown that my Vitamin D levels are low. Even after having just come out of a sunshine filled summer. Therefore we have decided to supplement with Vitamin D at least Fall-Winter months.
3) My liver enzymes were high, indicative of recent post Olympic social activities which involved drinking and eating more deep fried processed food at restaurants. This was not surprising but does make me question the health of many adults’ livers. Seeing as I have begun to train for the 30k deep fried food is almost impossible to consume and I have reserved alcohol intake for a cider during Sunday Football.
4) Interesting to me was my cholesterol panel. While not “bad” for a “normal” adult it was not optimal. Now yes my diet after the Games has been terrible and I have consumed way more fatty foods it’s interesting that it’s really no worse than previous tests when I was eating a lot more clean and healthy. I’m going to return to status quo pre Olympic Games eating and see how these levels look again after my next test in December.
5) Finally my blood glucose was not optimal. It actually has always tested high except for the most recent test in May when I was sick and training was abysmal. It got me thinking if “optimal” for me is actually much higher than other athlete peers of mine. Alicia even cautioned me not to heed too much regarding this biomarker as my nutritional requirements differ from the majority of my competitors. The reason is I have exercise induced ischemic colitis. I cannot eat at least 10hours before training. Every morning I train first thing after waking, when my body is still in a fasting state. I do this on race day too. Perhaps my body has conditioned itself over the years to maintain a higher blood glucose level overnight to keep me from crashing in my workouts. This may explain why I was so lightheaded feeling during training and racing in May. Alicia recommended that I not try to change this at all and instead continue to monitor my blood glucose levels through the different phases of a training and competition year.
Overall knowledge is power but take caution not to try to change too much. If something has worked well for you and it’s unconventional does it really need to change, maybe, but maybe not? Also changing too many variables complicates future analysis and makes establishing a cause and effect impossible for each individual variable. My next test will be right before Christmas; I’m looking at it as an early present to myself! After all, like Dale Carnegie said “knowledge isn’t power until it’s applied.” My December test will really shed light on where I need to focus making dietary/nutritional changes that my pre-Olympic “normal healthy lifestyle” alone was not sufficient enough to allow me to get the most out of my body. Then the efficacy of those changes can be measured with another blood draw test in March. Yes this is not an overnight fix; science is a process and a process I firmly believe in!