Popping the Hood

By Dina Griffin | April 11, 2014, 2:32 p.m. (ET)
blood testsTriathletes are often in the mode of giving quantitative data the bulk of their attention when a new training season begins. This quantitative data includes such things as functional threshold power, average run paces, heart rate trends, performance training zones, calories consumed versus calories burned, food portions, body weight, body composition, and the list goes on.  Assessments of your baseline level and your progress are commonly made by examining these external factors.

What you may not know to do as part of your “measurement collection” is to pop the hood on yourself in the early part of your training season so you can check your health biomarkers and other performance-related parameters. This is accomplished by getting blood work done and a test such as a Metabolic Efficiency Assessment. Although you may not enjoy getting stuck with needles or connected to a metabolic cart, the outcome data can be invaluable for nutrition planning for the rest of your training year at a minimum.

Diagnostic lab tests to consider may include:
  • Iron panel, including ferritin
  • Vitamin D3
  • Full lipid profile (including apolipoprotein B and a VAP or NMR assessment which measures other lipoprotein sizes and counts and gives an indication of cardiovascular health better than the conventional LDL, HDL and VLDL lipid test)
  • Fasting blood glucose, insulin, hemoglobin A1c
  • Full thyroid, including free T3, free T4 and thyroid antibodies
  • Sex and adrenal hormones, including DHEA and cortisol
  • Inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate and tumor necrosis factor-alpha
  • Complete metabolic panel (CMP) and complete blood count (CBC)

The Metabolic Efficiency Assessment will tell you how your body uses its internal fuel sources (namely, carbohydrate and fat) and fortunately, does not involve a blood draw. This is a submaximal exercise test, conducted on your bike or treadmill, where you are connected to a metabolic cart to measure your Respiratory Exchange Ratio. The data show the percentage of carbohydrate and fat you use at varying exercise intensities to reveal whether you are a “carb burner” or “fat adapted” athlete. This has important health and performance implications and will warrant both short- and long-term specific nutrition and training recommendations from an expert certified in Metabolic Efficiency principles.

In summary, keep in mind the idea that what is happening “under the hood” translates to your outward course of health and performance. You can have a slick and fast car, but if you don’t give the engine some TLC, the fast car will break down sooner or later.

Dina Griffin, MS, RD, CSSD, is a sport dietitian and Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist for Fuel4mance, a nutrition and performance consulting company based in Colorado. She is the co-author of “The Athlete’s Food Guide to Metabolic Efficiency” and the “Fuel4mance Smoothie Recipe Book” available at www.fuel4mance.com. To contact Dina, email her at dina@fuel4mance.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.