Digging Deeper to Perform Better - Testing for Athletes

When athletes come to me as new clients, they are often seeking to improve their race performance, minimize gastrointestinal (GI) distress or determine individualized race nutrition. But once we begin working together, it is not uncommon for me to find bigger body imbalances preventing them from achieving their goals.

In addition to a thorough intake form that allows me to begin to understand underlying issues, I may use biomarkers and lab tests to give me a glimpse under the hood, so to speak.

These are common tests that I consider:

  • Comprehensive blood panel – This can be obtained from the client’s general physician and is often
    covered by insurance. I recommend everyone have a full panel of blood tests at least once
    a year. From a comprehensive blood panel I can see the following:

o Nutritional deficiencies that may impair performance

o Blood sugar, which many athletes manage poorly due to a high intake of sugary sports nutrition drinks or bars, or excessive use of carbohydrates to fuel training sessions

o Inflammation, which can negatively impact recovery and can lead to other health problems like leaky gut, arthritis and eczema

o Bone and muscle health, which can indicate when there may be an increased risk of injury

o Hormonal deficiencies that can be precursors to overtraining or even prevent proper recovery and increase risk for injury

o Electrolyte imbalances, influencing hydration needs

o Iron and other oxygen transport levels, affecting performance

o Liver and kidney health, which can be damaged during endurance events

  • Organic Acids Test (OAT) – This test looks at metabolites in the urine, which are found in much higher concentration than in blood. The test provides a great look into an athlete’s health and metabolism, providing more than 70 markers. (https://www.greatplainslaboratory.com/organic-acids-test/) Athletes typically invest a significant amount of money on bikes and other equipment to improve performance, but this test will actually help to improve the “engine.” It shows the following:

o Ability to generate ATP (energy currency in the body) from fat or carbohydrate

o State of blood sugar management

o Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

o Intestinal health, including bacterial and fungal overgrowth, which can be common due to poor digestion during training and races

o Levels of oxidative stress, which is a concern for all athletes due to excessive generation of reactive oxidative species during training

o Neurotransmitter levels, which can affect mood and the desire to train

o Oxalate levels, which can be a concern and are linked to a number of health disorders, including kidney stones, fibromyalgia and anemia

o Ability to detoxify and flush toxins from the body

  • Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH) – Too often I see female athletes struggle with amenorrhea (in which women stop menstruating) or male athletes that have low testosterone. Many times this is due to overtraining and excessive stress leading to cortisol imbalances. The DUTCH test offers a chance to see where hormone levels currently stand, including sex hormones, stress hormones and melatonin. https://dutchtest.com/ All hormones affect each other, this test gets to the big picture and where the problems lie.
  • Metabolic Testing – This test shows me how well an athlete burns fat and gives me the data to prepare a customized training and racing nutrition plan. Learn more about it here: http://n2finc.com/blog/2017/4/10/the-value-of-metabolic-testing
  • Comprehensive stool testing – When an athlete struggles with GI distress during races, I probe more and find that he or she may deal with GI distress outside of training, as well. That’s a pretty good indicator that something is amiss in the GI tract. The stool test can tell us levels of bacteria, both good and bad, if there are parasites present and can even indicate how well an individual is absorbing nutrients

Without being able to see inside an athlete’s body, these tests provide an in-depth look at the overall health of the body and, as I say, health first, performance will follow. These are some valuable tools that all people should consider. Invest in your health!