Increased training, decreased sleep and a new puppy can wreak havoc on an endurance athlete’s system.
That was the underlying message from my second InsideTracker test, which I took in October — midway between my second ultramarathon and my Boston Qualifier marathon.
“It looks like you were training a little bit harder than your body was ready for,” summarized Laura Ligos, a registered dietitian and consultant at InsideTracker.
InsideTracker delivers knowledge, thorough analysis
InsideTracker provides athletes thorough examinations of their health, based on bloodwork measuring everything from glucose to iron to cortisol and much, much more. And it’s not just for elite athletes. Weekend warriors and everyday athletes — from triathlon age-groupers to back-of-the-packer half-marathoners — can benefit from learning more about their health.
“Knowledge is power and you don’t know what’s going on inside just by looking at the mirror,” Ligos said. “We have people with have six-packs who aren’t that healthy. If you want to be proactive with your health, this is the best way to do it.”
After my first test, I noticed that my cortisol levels were high. That did not seem as a surprise, given that it was a busy time in my personal life, and at work, and I was four days away from my first ultramarathon. Surely, if my stress levels were high at that time, they would decrease three months later when things were at a more normal pace.
But that wasn’t the case, according to the second analysis.
I consider myself pretty even-keeled and have usually been able to handle stress well. Then, after thinking about it, I realized that a 6-pound hyper puppy was contributing to my continued elevated cortisol level. We brought her home about six weeks before the test, so stress was high and sleep quality was low. “That probably has a lot to do with it,” Ligos said, who graciously spoke with me over the phone as we analyzed my bloodwork results together. “On top of that stress, you are running ultramarathons and marathons.”
Most nights, I usually get close to seven hours of sleep during the workweek and a few extra hours on weekends. But the puppy changed that equation.
“With all that’s going on — training, new puppy — you probably require more sleep to recover,” Ligos said. “Catch-up sleep is great, better than nothing, but what’s better is to get seven hours every night. Another thing to consider is to mediate or mental visualization or whatever it is that you find calming. Like the Headspace app or adding 30 minutes of yoga each week.”
Ligos correctly assessed that I made some changes since my previous test: increasing my Vitamin D intake and adding a daily supplement of berberine. “For most of the year, we’re not able to spend enough time outdoors so that is why we recommend supplementation,” she said, referencing the Vitamin D.
At this time of the year in the Western Hemisphere, we face a special challenge. “Normally I tell people that unless you live in southern California, you are not going to be able to get enough Vitamin D naturally in the winter months,” Ligos said. “Even if you eat fatty fish, you are not getting enough for what our body needs. Normally what I recommend for people who are indoors, especially during winter months, is to supplement with Vitamin D.”
My glucose level was solid, given my increased workouts, which Ligos partially credited to the berberine supplement that was recommended in my first InsideTracker analysis. “Often, we see higher glucose levels in ultramarathoners, marathoners and Cross Fit athletes,” she said. “It’s normally because their bodies are exhausted and they are trying to pump out glucose at all hours of the day. It doesn’t know how much it needs. The way to combat it is to have fiber, like chia seeds and avocados.”
How to read the test scores
InsideTracker analysis places each bloodwork category into one of three areas: optimized, needs work or at-risk. Of course, the more optimized scores, the better the athlete’s overall health is.
Athletes definitely want to focus on fixing the at-risk area. Fortunately, most of my scores were either the optimized zone or the zone. But how concerned should I be that the majority of those still need work?
“Everyone is different and it just depends,” Ligos said. “If you get everything optimized, that’s great. But what we find is that not everyone can be fully optimized in the short term. For the long term, we can play around with things to achieve the proper balance.
“None of us are perfect. If we were, we’d be machine and robots and we’d live forever.”
Ligos and my rest results recommended taking 300mg of Ashwagandha root twice daily after meals with water to decrease cortisol levels and feelings of stress. “It’s not a magic pill. It’s a piece of the puzzle that we want to use to get the stress level down,” she said. “I’ve seen it time and time again to help get the stress level down, especially for active people like yourself.”
Another red flag was my iron levels. “We want to be sure that we don’t see the iron go higher, because you are male,” Ligos explained. “And you don’t process it as easily as a female does. We also want to make sure you are hydrating and not overdoing the iron consumption.”
My magnesium levels could use a boost, Ligos noted, suggesting a couple of different ways to achieve that goal.
“Would be good to add magnesium to your routine, either as a supplement, increasing it through your diet with seeds, nuts and grains, or through an Epsom salt bath. Someone who trains a lot loses a lot of magnesium.” Specifically, Ligos recommended one of the following:
- Taking 300-400mg of magnesium per day.
- Using an oral or topical supplement such as Natural Calm, Magnesium Glycinate or Ancient Minerals Oil.
- Taking an Epsom Salt bath for 20 minutes for twice a week, especially on hard or long workout days.
After the consultation and a thorough review of my own test scores, I updated my goals from the first test. Among what I will be doing going forward:
- Adding a serving of fish weekly.
- Doing more yoga each week.
- Considering supplementing with Ashwagandha root each week after finishing the supplement berberine.
- Incorporating a magnesium supplement into my routine.
“Now you have the blood test, and the blood don’t lie,” Ligos said. “Now you have to work on this and get yourself ready for Boston and your goals for the future.”
About Laura Ligos
Laura Ligos is a registered dietitian, CrossFit L1-trainer, food blogger at www.TheSassyDietitian.com and sales executive at InsideTracker. She graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition Sciences and went on to complete her dietetic internship and master’s degree at Dominican University. Laura has a passion for real food and fitness and loves teaching her clients and followers how to eat healthy food that makes them feel great and leaves them satisfied. She lives in Albany, N.Y., with her husband and new wheaten terrier puppy, Bode.
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