The Importance of Getting Bloodwork
By: O2X Nutrition Specialist Erik Bustillo (MS, RD)
Getting blood work done should be a part of everyone’s health & performance routine. Ideally, this would occur at least once a year, where there is a blood draw and a review of the results with a qualified healthcare professional. Blood tests are used to measure specific markers, examine cells, chemicals, proteins, and/or other substances in the blood.
Labs are important to assess for various reasons such as (but not limited to) these listed below:
- Helping diagnose certain diseases and conditions like diabetes, cancer, and kidney disease
- Monitor a chronic disease or condition
- Check how well the liver, kidneys, heart, and thyroid are working
- Show how effective medical treatments are working
- Find out if the immune system is having trouble fighting infection
- Assess how well the blood is clotting
Lab tests should include a general “full panel” which consists of various tests that can help ensure an individual is in overall good health. There are several tests that are vital in helping evaluate someone’s current state of health.
Complete blood count (CBC)
What is being identified – different parts of the blood such as red and white blood cells, platelets, and hemoglobin.
How this impacts performance – Blood count tests can help identify the presence of different types of anemia, which is a disease of the blood categorized by low iron levels, which can have an impact on recovery and energy levels secondary to decreased oxygen being transported.
How to improve these metrics – To ensure anemia is avoided, athletes can consume adequate amounts of iron and vitamin B12 in their diets. These nutrients are found in red meat (iron and B12), eggs (B12), black beans (iron), lentils, and supplements (if needed).
Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) and blood enzymes
What is being identified – measures different chemicals in the blood such as glucose, calcium, electrolytes, and blood gasses. Enzyme tests may be used to check for a heart attack. Creatine kinase (not testing for creatine from the supplement) tests are used to find out if you’ve had a heart attack and/or if your heart muscle is damaged. A CMP also provides information about organs such as the kidneys and liver which can help identify issues surrounding damage or inflammation.
How this impacts performance – The values measured can help identify dehydration, severe muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis), possible heart damage, and fluid imbalances.
How to improve these metrics – Ensuring adequate hydration is achieved. Aim to drink a MINIMUM of 2.5 liters of water on most days (this value will highly vary depending on the person, what their training looks like, and the climate of where they live & their sweat rate). Something else to consider for electrolyte balance is supplementing with an electrolyte powder. Being mindful of training intensity is important in preventing rhabdomyolysis as well as hydration status and eating adequately. Liver tests can be affected by excess caloric intake, especially if these calories come from ultra-processed foods.
Lipoprotein Panel (lipid panel):
What is being identified – markers that can indicate risk of heart disease. In this panel, cholesterol markers are measured. Total, HDL, LDL, and V-LDL cholesterols, and triglycerides. These tests can help someone identify what lifestyle modifications can be made, such as eating less saturated fat.
How this impacts performance – Although there is not a direct impact on performance, the purpose of these tests is mostly preventive in nature. Doctors often use these tests to verify whether cholesterol treatment (medical nutrition therapy from a registered dietitian, medical treatment using medications) is working.
How to improve these metrics – One of the most important factors for improving elevated LDL is to increase fiber and decrease the combination of high saturated fat intake along with high sugar intake (no, not fruit sugar, more so ice cream and doughnuts). To help improve HDL, cardiovascular exercise is greatly encouraged, as well as increased intake of unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and avocado. For lowering triglycerides (if not genetic), decreasing alcohol and added sugar intake is recommended as well as considering a fish oil supplement.
The value of routine bloodwork
Routine blood work helps understand the inner workings of the body and establishes where values are currently. This is a baseline review and did not go into detail on other parameters that can be measured. It is important to have blood work reviewed by a qualified healthcare professional. Keep this in mind, especially if you are having doubts about getting blood work done: We cannot control what we are not aware of, and in healthcare as well as fitness, there is a saying that goes something along the lines of “that which is measured can be managed.”
About O2X Nutrition Specialist Erik Bustillo
Erik Bustillo is an O2X Nutrition Specialist, Registered Dietitian, and current Co-Vice President of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). He is also a Certified Sports Nutritionist through the ISSN, a Certified Strength Coach through the National Council on Strength & Fitness- NCSF, and a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association – NSCA. He specializes in reading and understanding blood/lab values that have a direct effect on human physiology and one’s ability to perform, energy improvement, performance recovery, weight loss, stress management, mindset, and habit change
About O2X Human Performance:
O2X Human Performance provides comprehensive, science-backed programs to hundreds of public safety departments, federal agencies, and the military. O2X works with clients to elevate culture, improve mental and physical well-being, support healthy lifestyles, and reduce healthcare costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Driven by results and cutting-edge research, O2X programs are designed and delivered by a team of Special Operations veterans, high-level athletes, and hundreds of leading experts in their respective fields of human performance.
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