What about health?
Being a CrossFitter, I love measuring things (don’t be lewd). CrossFit it built on the foundation of a measurable concept of fitness. You are as fit as your work capacity over broad time and modal domains. You can track your fitness by the trend in a broad range of workout scores and metrics.
But what about health? How do you measure the trend in your health status? To be sure, if you are getting fitter and leaner over time, most likely you are getting healthier too. But that isn’t a foregone conclusion and there are diminishing ‘health-returns’ to fitness. Indeed, a look at some athletes would suggest that fitness can have a negative impact on your health after a certain point.
To put this the other way around, if you aren’t progressing as much as you’d like with your fitness and fat-loss, could it be your health status that is holding you back? And if so, how do you know?
Blood-tests can help. Blood panels let you see data that is otherwise invisible and can give you a very detailed picture of how well your body is working. I’ve been using blood tests recently and they’ve helped tremendously in my gaining an understanding of what is going on in my body. Best of all, blood tests can often indicate actionable modifications to lifestyle, training or nutrition that you can put into practice, to great effect, immediately.
But enough of the general, I want to share my results so you can see the ways in which blood panels can be useful. I used a company called Medichecks and took their most comprehensive all-in-one test, the Sports Hormone Check UltraVit. Here’s what I got…
This is one of the classic tests, but it’s useful to know where you stand on this one since elevated LDL cholesterol or triglycerides are an indication of heart disease risk. You can see that I am within the normal range for each risk factor. HDL Cholesterol is high and outside the normal range but that’s not a concern since HDL is actually considered protective against heart disease. Looking critically at this, I would say that LDL and triglycerides could be lower. The diet could be a little cleaner… Perhaps I should eat fewer Crosstown donuts.
As you all know, hormones have a massive impact on the way our bodies function. This panel is not comprehensive, but it does cover all the major bases.
The Thyroid looks like it’s functioning quite well. TSH is low, which indicates a good sensitivity to this hormone, especially since free Thyroxine is high. High levels of free Thyroxine indicate hyperthyroidism and low levels hypothyroidism so this hormone gives you an indication of how ‘fast’ your metabolism is operating. My result is on the high end which is ok.
Now to the big one, testosterone and related hormones. This was the first red flag and allowed me to make some changes to optimise my health. As you can see, total testosterone is towards the high end of the normal range, which is good. But FREE testosterone is below the normal range…! That’s not good. So why is it so low?
Have a look at the next line down, Sex Hormone Binding Globulin. This hormone binds testosterone, preventing it from being bioavailable. OK, so why would SHBG be high? Some further research revealed a couple of possibilities: (1) High SHBG is associated with hyperthyroidism, which my thyroxine panel indicates I am not far away from and (2) elevated SHBG is associated with overtraining and elevated cortisol.
(2) at least is actionable. It looks like I need to reduce my training volume and control my stress levels to reduce SHBG and therefore increase free testosterone. I will let you know how that goes… Note how important a panel this is and how simple a solution there is to something that could prove to be a problem down the road. That’s the beauty of blood panels.
Other than free testosterone, everything else looks ok.
All these vitamins and minerals are important for healthy function and recovery. For me, the only concern here was the vitamin D levels, which were towards the low end of the range. Vitamin D3 is associated with a huge number of important functions, including serotonin production and regulation and, funnily enough, testosterone production. So it’s back to the D3 pills for me and, if you live in London, you may want to follow suit! I was happy here that magnesium levels were high, since it’s an incredibly important mineral. I would like to see B12 a little higher.
There are a number of VERY important tests here.
Insulin: elevated levels of insulin could indicate insulin resistance which is linked with poor blood glucose regulation and excess fat tissue. Potentially even more important than the insulin result is the HBA1C panel. This represents your 3 month moving average of blood glucose levels. If this is high, the chances are even higher that you are not controlling your blood glucose levels well. This could explain why you are unable to lose weight. If this is you, get on top of your nutrition now! Luckily for me, both these panels looks great on my test.
The other marker here which is critically important is the CRP (c-reactive protein). This is a marker of chronic inflammation which is associated with just about every disease you want to avoid, particularly heart disease. If your levels of CRP are anywhere near the top limit, you should take action yesterday.
You can see that I have a couple of out-of-range results on this panel. I did some digging and found out that the liver results are almost certainly a result of training. In athletes, these elevated levels are nothing to worry about. Both elevated markers (alanine transferase and CK – creatine kinase) rise in response to muscle breakdown. Phew!
The other elevated market is sodium. And this is worth paying some attention to as there is a link with heart disease.
What are you waiting for?
There is a haematology panel too, but I’m going to stop there for fear of boring you! The main point in going through my tests, result by result, was to show you how having data allows you to make informed decisions about your training, lifestyle and diet. Out of range, or in some cases close to out of range results, can indicate that something is amiss. Access to this information gives you the best possible chance of incorporating the most effective strategies and habits.
If you’d like to do blood panel yourself, let me know by emailing me. We can arrange a 20% discount directly with Medichecks and I can help you choose the best panel for your case.
Start measuring and tracking your health as closely as you measure your fitness. What could be more important?