Slowly but surely, performance enhancement technology becomes sufficiently available and affordable to amateur athletes, not just top professionals. Power meters for cycling, then power meters for running. Physiology tests such as lactic threshold and VO2max, then metabolic efficiency and sodium concentration of sweat. Blood tests for major elements, and now specific blood tests for everyday athletes, and not just the general medical population.
Athletes are not normal people. Yes, yes, I know, but I’m talking about physiologically, not so much in personality (that’s for another post). Blood tests are popping up like whack-a-mole, aimed at athletes, but not aimed for athletes. And blood tests that compare athletes to the general population are at best unhelpful and at worst misleading. Let me give you an example from another medical field—cardiology.
Once upon a time there was a professional basketball player who flunked his physical, rendering him unable to play for the team. It seems that the imagery that the cardiology team indicated that the basketball player had a low ejection fraction (the proportion of blood pumped out of the heart with each contraction of the ventricles) was low. Low, but compared to the general population. The team doctors flunked this player, and his career appeared to be over.
But wait. Further analysis showed that most members of the team also had low ejection fractions.
Now, these athletes are all tall, so maybe it was tall people who have low ejection fractions, so they then looked at runners and other types of athletes. Low ejection fractions again.
Aha. Athletes often have lower ejection fractions than people in the general population.
What’s that got to do with blood testing?
Well, athletes are different. Many commercial blood testing services, even those aimed at athletes, do their analyses of what’s within normal ranges compared to the general population. But athletes are not normal, so how relevant are those analyses?
The good news is that blood tests for athletes can be amazingly helpful. With the amount of training and racing stress athletes put their bodies through, they can experience imbalances in micronutrients, minerals and hormones. And those imbalances can impair conditioning, health, even moods.
Athletes who get sports-specific blood tests two or three times a year can identify and remedy deficiencies, often with solid results in training, racing, injury prevention and overall well being.
Josh Shadle, founder of Fuelary , a blood testing service specifically for athletes, says, “Athletes are more focused on their diet and supplement regimen, but how do you know if they’re working or how to improve it? Blood testing is like a look under the hood of your car and Fuelary is the garage to make it run better.”
When athletes do a blood test and find that their levels are indeed within normal ranges compared to other athletes, it gives them peace of mind, removes one more unknown and lets them focus on what they are doing right.
Mike Ricci, head coach at D3 Multisport has a relationship with Blueprint for Athletes. Ricci says, “”Get one baseline test now, then another one next quarter to see if we’ve fixed any trouble areas. The markers I would recommend are: Vitamin D, Iron, Ferritin, Hematocrit, and Testosterone (if male).”
Shadle of Fuelary sums it up: “You as an athlete need the ability to assess system health, not just one biomarker within or out of range is our biggest differentiator. We deliver an action plan that includes supplements and recipes to help you optimize your health and fitness goals.”
Shadle continues, “Athletes are all about tracking. They track weight, strength, speed, watts, time and more. They really need to track their blood chemistry over time so that they can be educated and empowered enough to improve their own health and performance.”
It’s time for your blood test. It’s informative, useful, possibly the key to better performance and health, and now affordable and convenient. Just make sure that you get a sports-specific test by someone who can order the right test and interpret the results against an athlete pool. Because remember, you are not normal.