9 Blood Tests Every Athlete Needs
Last month I wrote about the importance of getting advanced cardiovascular testing done to determine your risk of heart disease.
In this blog I wanted to touch on all the other tests that I think are important for an athlete to get at least once a year. After seeing many athletes over the years (and one of the reasons I created the Endurance Health & Performance program) is that I kept seeing super fit people come in to my office seeking a second opinion, all the while only having very minimal/basic tests done by their primary doc.
I’m a firm believer in ‘test, don’t guess’. While we can chat about any signs and symptoms and review your performance, physiology doesn’t lie. And by this I mean that we can take a very detailed look at the internal workings of your system to detect anything that may be holding you back from optimal performance, with a good eye on prevention.
So, these are the tests I recommend you get each year, ideally before you enter your peak training period. That way you can modify and tweak any systems, diet and lifestyle changes based on what’s found on your results before real training starts.
Here they are:
Iron Panel + Ferritin - this checks your iron status; iron is extremely important for red blood cell production - red cells deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Be sure to get the ferritin as well - ferritin is a storage form of iron that if low, can make you feel as if you’re anemic even if you aren’t. Hemoglobin A1c - checks how well your body is dealing with sugars and if your insulin system is functioning properly. Yep, even though you’re fit and eat well, insulin resistance can happen as we age. It’s a double edged sword for athletes, because fitness improves insulin sensitivity, yet one may be consuming way too many simple carbs at the same time. This test will tell you if you need to make dietary changes in regard to simple carbs! OmegaCheck - looks at the balance between inflammatory omega-6 fats and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats, when out of balance with omega-3’s, create a pro-inflammatory environment in the body. This test will show you if you’re consuming too many omega-6 foods and not getting enough omega-3’s.
Thyroid Panel - measures thyroid gland function; your thyroid governs metabolism and energy production. Simply put, conventional ranges for thyroid hormone leave a lot of people suffering with hypothyroidism, even though they’ve been told their results are normal. Not good if you want to keep the fat off, have good energy, hair, skin and overall metabolism!
A thyroid panel should include a TSH, free T4, free T3 and TPO antibodies. hsCRP - measures an inflammatory protein marker; if its elevated you have to find the source of inflammation! Lipoprotein Particle Profile (also known as an NRM Lipoprofile) - a modern version of the standard lipid test, it gives you a much more detailed look at cardiovascular disease risk. We covered this one last month in great detail.
Food Sensitivity - measures the inflammatory burden of foods you’re eating - you can be sensitive to any food and that’s why everyone needs to get this test done, regardless of how healthy your diet is. Food sensitivities will drag you down in a number of ways.
CBC with differential - measures the entire red blood cell system and the white blood cell (immune) system. One of the basics, but it’s important to get it with the differential component too.
Complete Chemistry - looks at organ function and electrolyte balance. Another one of the basics, but also needs to be the ‘complete’ version of the test rather than the ‘basic’ version.
Getting all of these tests done will provide you with a very complete picture of your internal health. And, if something is off, you can work on correcting and balancing those issues. It’s all about fine-tuning. You can train all you want, but if something is off physiologically as revealed by these tests, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Note - It’s really important to have a knowledgeable practitioner review these tests with you! A doctor trained in functional medicine with a knowledge of athletic performance is your best bet.
Secondly, not all of these tests are going to be covered by insurance. Consider investing a couple hundred extra dollars each year in your health - I think you (and your loved ones!) will find it to be a very good investment.
Questions about these labs?
Send me an email.
Feel free to schedule a complimentary 30 minute consultation if you’d like to learn more about these advanced tests for optimal health.
In Health, Fitness and Endurance,
Dr. Jason Barker