Is This Pricey Blood Test Worth It for Personalized Nutrition?

For the past few months, I’ve felt a bit out of sorts — lower energy levels and frequent sinus infections I just can’t shake. I’ve had blood work done, and everything has come back fine.

But I knew I wasn’t fine, at least for me. I was struggling through training runs, even skipping them altogether — which is not my style. I even dropped down to a half-marathon from my typical yearly 26.2.

So I was intrigued when I heard about InsideTracker, a health analytics company that aims to give athletes information beyond what they might get from their doctors. The goal: to help optimize training and performance.

And so, I found myself letting someone I’d never met into my apartment to take my blood one Monday morning before work.

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Optimal Vs. Clinical Nutrient Levels

“A traditional blood test shows whether you are at risk for disease or not,” says Ashley Reaver, a dietitian at InsideTracker. “But that doesn’t tell the whole story if you’re an athlete.” Or if you’re someone trying to figure out why you’re so darn tired (aka me).

To yield more accurate advice, I filled out a lengthy survey about my training, nutrition and lifestyle habits (read: loves wine, can’t eat dairy) before I could see my results. This questionnaire helped the system give personalized advice — it wouldn’t recommend dairy for me; it wouldn’t suggest red meat to a vegan.

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The system measures you against 30 biomarkers. It then lets you know if you are optimized, need work or are at risk, based on different nutrient levels in your blood. At-risk indicates potential for disease; needs work generally refers to safe clinical levels but below optimal levels that could improve performance; optimal means your levels are in line with your fitness and lifestyle goals.

“The optimal levels come from scientific, peer-reviewed literature and the NHANES survey,” Reaver says. “They correlate nutrients with how long someone may live — a vitamin D level between 40 and 48, for example, is correlated with a longer life expectancy.”

Is This Pricey Blood Test Worth It for Personalized Sports Nutrition?

My Surprising Results

Speaking of vitamin D, as a runner and a beach bum, I expected to overachieve there. I was surprised to find my levels needed work, but Reaver said that was common among athletes living in the Northeast. Low vitamin D is associated with muscle weakness, lower bone density and depression. I knew I needed to kick my intake up a notch if I wanted to keep running happy for the rest of my life. Reaver and the site recommended more eggs and white fish, based on my preferences.

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Another nutrient I lacked (typical for most people) was ferritin, which indicates how well your body stores iron. “If you’re a marathoner with a level of 11 [clinical healthy range is 10 to 154], you’re not at risk for disease, but you’re going to bonk,” Reaver says. Iron is important for runners because it’s used to hold on to oxygen and transport it to your muscle tissue — which needs all the oxygen it can get during a long run.

Reaver explained that runners tend to have low iron due to the foot strike and demands of endurance training. Experts typically recommend supplements to increase ferritin, but heme iron — the type found in animal foods such as eggs, meat, fish and poultry — helps the human body absorb significantly more iron. These foods as sources to increase your ferritin levels.

Even more surprising, as a stressed-out endurance junkie who (again I say!) really loves her wine, both my cortisol and liver functions were within optimal levels. I was encouraged to keep doing what I was already doing in those departments. Doctor’s orders!

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Who Needs Optimal Sports Nutrition?

Because I’m a long-distance runner, I was curious to see my results so I could chase down my next PR. But who else is a $500 test like this for? As it turns out, many of their users are like me. Reaver described them as worried about their health and energy. “They know something is off, and their doctors tell them everything is OK,” she says. “But they know they can feel better.” In addition to those just looking to get back to 100, Inside Tracker also works with professional athletes to monitor how training impacts their bodies over the course of a season.

Inside Tracker recommends you take several tests to compare how your lifestyle and training regimen alter your biomarkers. The system also asks you to pick several markers you’d like to concentrate on between the tests. For me, I’m focusing on improving my ferritin and vitamin D levels in hopes of increased energy, better muscle recovery and you know, general world domination. I guess more egg recipes are in my future.

To learn more about Inside Tracker, head to insidetracker.com.

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