Whether it’s with training, racing, treatment modalities, or nutrition, the physiologist in me always likes to experiment. With the ever changing ideas about optimal training, health, and nutrition and the fact that EVERY BODY IS UNIQUE, finding the best way to keep yourself healthy and fit should be an evolving process.
I’ve learned from the smart people around me that knowing your numbers when you’re feeling good and racing well can give you a reference point for when things aren’t going as well. These numbers can include body weight, training volume, training intensity, heart rate, ferritin, hematocrit, and a variety of other blood markers.
Building off a great Fall of 2014, and hoping to make 2015 another fun and successful year, I’ve been working on developing a picture of a healthy, fit Kimber. Every athlete wants their body to be functioning like a well-oiled machine, so the first step is creating a user manual for how to keep that body firing on all cylinders and how to troubleshoot when it isn’t. With workouts we need to know how to play to our strengths, but also strengthen our weaknesses. The same is true of our nutrition, recovery, and the other hours of our day we don’t spend training. Thanks to my friend Julia Webb, I was introduced to the program InsideTracker, which measures many biomarkers in the blood and uses a special system of making nutritional recommendations to optimize these different markers for each individual. You can check out Julia’s blog post about her results here.
So in the past several weeks, I’ve used a few tools to work toward creating my athlete user manual. 1) Inside Tracker Biomarker Analysis, 2) Body composition testing, 3) Heart rate monitored test effort, 4) Keeping a training log, and 5) Identifying my physical strengths, weaknesses, and imbalances. You may not have the desire or resources to track all of these things, but they all provide different pieces of information. I’ll go into a little more depth about each of these over the next couple weeks, but in today’s post let’s focus on biomarkers and nutrition.
With Inside Tracker, you can test up to twenty biomarkers that give information about energy and metabolism, bone and muscle health, inflammation, strength and endurance, oxygen delivery, and liver health. Every individual will have different markers that are important for them to focus on, so we’ll just use a few of my results as an example. Remember that my optimized zones may not be the same as your optimized zones.
As an endurance athlete, oxygen delivery via the protein hemoglobin in red blood cells is important. Hematocrit is the percentage of blood volume that is red blood cells, while ferritin is the body’s storage of iron, which is used when making new red blood cells. As I get ready to go train at higher altitude for a few weeks, it’s important to make sure I have adequate iron storage to support red blood cell production.
Although I do eat fish and a little chicken and turkey, I don’t really eat red meat. So the month or two leading up to this test I had started supplementing with iron. The fact that my blood iron levels are high and my ferritin is low, despite taking iron supplements, indicates to me that my body may not be effectively absorbing this iron. There could be several reasons for this. The questions to ask when taking an iron supplement are: 1) Are you taking the right supplement, 2) Are you taking the right dosage, and 3) Is the timing or what you’re consuming with the iron supplement interfering with absorption? In terms of timing, you should consider that iron supplements should be taken on an empty stomach, but with vitamin C and not with other vitamins and supplements, as these can block the absorption of iron. You should also consider that iron supplements can cause upset stomach in some people. There are also a variety of types of iron supplements, from basic iron pills to liquid iron to liver capsules. If you’re a meat eater, consuming red meat can be one of the best sources of iron. It may take some experimenting to figure out what works best for your body. The changes I plan to make include using a liquid iron supplement, establishing a schedule that ensures I’m taking my iron on an empty stomach, and taking it with a little juice (vitamin C) to support effective absorption. When you monitor your ferritin, hematocrit, and hemoglobin, make sure you consider the questions above to optimize absorption.
My Vitamin D levels were also low, despite taking Vitamin D supplements. As most of you know, Eugene, Oregon doesn’t get a whole lot of sunshine in the Winter and early Spring. Vitamin D is important for bone health and energy. There are two ways to increase Vitamin D, get more sunshine and take in more Vitamin D through diet and supplementation. My solution…head to Flagstaff for some sunshine. I’ll also try to consume more tuna and salmon, as
recommended by Inside Tracker.
Contrary to my low Ferritin and Vitamin D, my cortisol levels were high. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is important for energy and metabolism. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout a twenty-four hour cycle and in response to things like exercise, eating, and caffeine. When cortisol is not well-regulated it can affect health, energy levels, and sleep. Some ways that I plan to reduce cortisol include: more yoga, black tea, and fish, and minimizing processed foods and simple carbohydrates.
So far I’ve focused on the biomarkers that need improvement, but overall my body is pretty healthy. The majority of my biomarkers fell in the “optimized” range. I credit this to a healthy diet and a fantastic system of vitamins called EnduroPacks that support my health, performance, and recovery. Despite a high level of training, my C-Reactive Protein and Creatine Kinase levels were in the optimal indicates inflammation in my body is low and my body is recovering well. Additionally, as reflected by my white blood cell count and the fact that I’ve stayed pretty healthy the last few months, my immune system is functioning well. Most basic minerals, including sodium, potassium, calcium, chromium, and magnesium were in the optimal range.
The EnduroPacks system consists of a daily liquid multi-vitamin taken in the morning, a concentrated electrolyte spray for hydration, an essential amino acid trans-dermal patch used after workouts to aid in muscle building and recovery, and a glutamine recovery complex taken before bed to also help with muscle repair and recovery. And it’s delivered right to your door! I do my best to use real food to provide me with the nutrients I need, but EnduroPacks helps make sure I’m getting all the micronutrients I need to optimize my health, recovery, and performance.
Based on the InsideTracker recommendations, the foods I plan to eat more of include: fish, nuts, seeds, kale, broccoli, edamame, olive oil, avocado, and black tea. Some of my newly discovered favorite snacks that hit several of these are Wondefully Raw’s Brussel Bytes, Snip Chips, and Dipperz. I highly recommend giving them a try! I also plan to make my next batch of kombucha using black tea.
Feel free to contact me to find out more about InsideTracker or EnduroPacks! And check back for my next post about the other tools I’m using to create my athlete user’s manual to keep myself firing on all cylinders this year.