Digging deeper into InsideTracker results
Throughout the past few years I have had my blood drawn every few months for customized results and recommendations provided by InsideTracker. I have seen various blood markers improve while others have remained a challenge, most notably vitamin D and cortisol.
Regular InsideTracker tests reveal how stress — physical, emotional, etc. — and nutrition are impacting dozens of an individual’s biomarkers. The custom recommendations are based on the individual’s dietary preferences, as well as their age, weight, goals and more.
InsideTracker is recommended for athletes of any skill or experience level, as well as anyone else wanting to learn more about various markers that define their health. Right now, I am thrilled to be partnering with InsideTracker on a giveaway for one of my readers. You must enter by Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. One person will be drawn at random to win:
• An Ultimate blood test from InsideTracker ($589 value).
• A one-on-one consultation to review your bloodwork results with a Registered Dietitian ($100 value).
To see all the rules and enter, visit this page.
In my most recent test, 35 of 48 biomarkers were rated optimized, while six were in the needs improvement category and seven were flagged as at risk. Some of these areas have been pretty consistent over the years so it was time to bring in an expert to talk about how to improve.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Catherine Roy, a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Scientist at InsideTracker. Roy, a former Division I collegiate rower and coach, understands the vital role nutrition plays in performance.
Interpreting the data with an RD
Roy helped me understand the results more clearly than I had previously. A high point was that my vitamin B12 scores look “awesome,” she said, noting that it’s often a challenge for vegan athletes like me. We then went over the most recent results generally but zoomed in on the five key areas that had been flagged as “needs improvement.”
Here are the key points and how I can address them:
As mentioned, my vitamin D levels have been lagging recently, even though I’ve been taking a daily supplement for years. In the February 2021 test, it scored 23, a fairly consistent mark since it was 31 one year ago. That is just under the optimized zone of 32, a range which I had been in fairly consistently up until the past year.
In reviewing my data before the call with Roy, it finally occurred to me to check the dosage. InsideTracker has recommended taking at least 5000 IU daily. My capsules were only 1000, so I have now upgraded my daily vitamin D total.
She recommended taking the entire dose at the same time with a source of fat.
White blood cells
Roy said that low levels can be caused by frequent, intense exercise, and can be a sign of overtraining.
“A low white blood cell count is not uncommon in runners,” she says. “Keep incorporating your yoga and bike active recovery days, and full rest days!”
She also identified some foods to support white blood cells:
Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens (kale, collards, etc.), winter squashes, carrots, bell peppers and all orange/yellow fruits.
Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower) and melon.
Vitamin E: nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds, almonds, almond butter, peanuts and peanut butter.
Roy explained that cortisol reflects all life’s stresses, not just the physical ones from training. And that explained why mine is at a very high level.
In my most recent test, my cortisol measured the highest it’s ever been at 26.6, which compares to 24.6 a year ago, just after I moved my dad into assisted living. The optimum range is 4 to 15.8.
This is an example of why it is so important to examine the data and apply it toward an action plan. Among the recommendations to bring cortisol under control was to take a daily dose of ashwagandha root up to 600 milligrams. I had taken that in the past, based on InsideTracker suggestions.
So I proceeded to look back and my score for cortisol and compare it to when I previously ordered ashwagandha from Amazon. Bingo! There was a direct correlation. And now I am back to taking a daily ashwagandha capsule. “Ashwagandha is what we call an adaptogen,” she explains. “They help our bodies better react to critical situations. It kind of chills us out a little bit.”
This is another category that would be boosted by better rest and relaxation. Roy emphasized continuing to incorporate rest days/active recovery, as well as practicing yoga, breath work and meditation as part of a stress management approach. And, of course, aim for at least eight hours of sleep per night instead of my typical six and a half to seven hours.
“We often see high cortisol levels from overtraining, poor sleep and not enough calories,” she adds.
Among the foods that support cortisol:
Healthy fats: all nuts and seeds, avocados, cooking oils (avocado and olive), tahini, olives and dark chocolate.
Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, spinach, black beans, dark chocolate and whole grains (particularly quinoa and oatmeal).
My iron levels have been noticeably high. Roy recommended checking my supplement dosage since it appears “that I am consuming more iron than my body needs.” However, the iron supplement that I take twice-weekly on hard workout days is in line with her recommendation of a 28 mg supplement.
The most recent iron test score measured 210, up from 173 on the previous one but consistent with not as high as a year ago when it was 265. The optimized zone is 65 to 114, which I have never been close to. I generally take iron twice weekly on my hard workout days.
She pointed out that my TS plus iron score signals that I am consuming a high amount of dietary iron. But on the positive side, my ferritin number indicates I “have a solid amount of stored iron in your reserves.”
Testosterone + SHBG
My testosterone score was noticeably low. It measured 364 in the most recent test, up from 284 on the previous one but trailing the low end of the optimized scale, which is 495.5 to 1,100. Roy says this can be fairly common for athletes and again recommended eight hours of sleep each night. “We typically see this combination with overtraining plus poor sleep.”
She also emphasized that I consume enough calories plus protein to meet the demands of my workouts.
“Ideally I would like to see you closer to 100 grams of protein per day,” she said, after I mentioned I average between 90 and 100. “The base of all your meals should be carbohydrates. You are likely meeting this goal given your vegan diet.”
Action plan from February 2021 test
Vitamin D: Bump up my dosage to 5000 IU of Vitamin D and keep drinking chocolate almond milk with the vitamin, as well as having mushrooms as a regular part of my diet. To enhance absorption, it’s recommended to take vitamin D supplements with a meal. Foods that are high in fats, like avocados, nuts, and seeds, are particularly helpful with increasing the absorption of vitamin D into the bloodstream.
Cortisol: More quinoa and oats. I already eat a lot of peanut butter, almond butter, almonds and chia seeds. And I have started taking ashwagandha again. Also: more yoga.
Inflammation group and white blood cells: Quinoa and oats. Add pistachio nuts to my diet. More grapes and black and green tea.
TS and iron levels are high: Stop taking Vitamin C with iron supplement.
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) is a protein produced primarily in the liver that transports sex hormones, including testosterone, throughout the body. SHBG regulates the amount of free hormones available for diffusion into tissues. Recommendations include eating adzuki, white and yard-long beans, as well as oats and amaranth.
And last, but not least, get some more sleep.