By now you’ve seen all the posts about it on Instagram and your favorite running blogs: InsideTracker, the company that promises to “increase vitality, improve performance and extend the lives of our users” by analyzing “key biochemical and physiological markers”. For a fee, InsideTracker will enable you to have your blood drawn and then analyzed for “biomarkers” like hormone levels, nutrients, etc.
I know it’s a service that some of you use and love, while others may be skeptical. No matter how you feel, we want to know:
Have you tried InsideTracker? Tell us about your experience!
Do you have questions or concerns about it? If so, what are they?
And now, here’s my take!
About midway through my Boston Marathon training cycle I was feeling more lethargic than usual. I also didn’t feel like I was bouncing back from workouts in my usual manner. Yes, I was running more than ever before and eating all the food. But as we know, cumulative fatigue can be a bitch — so maybe it was just that.
But I wanted to make sure, particularly with my health history. So, I got on the hopper with Inside Tracker and they were kind enough to give me a complementary test. Like any paying customer, within a week I’d had blood drawn and access to full and comprehensive results.
Founded in 2009, InsideTracker is a “personal health analytics company”, which means it’s a company that provides blood tests directly to customers, rather than the customer having to go through a doctor. Doctors tend to order medical tests when there is a health concern, but InsideTracker is more about giving you knowledge to optimize your health rather than to diagnose something.
InsideTracker analyzes specific biomarker levels and gives customized nutritional advice for athletes to optimize their performance based on the results of that analysis. InsideTracker offers a tiered system of services where the most pricey analyzes the most biomarkers and the least pricey the fewest. You can also send blood test results ordered by your physician and save a little money that way.
I liked being able to get the information I wanted without having to go to the doctor. I didn’t have to make an appointment or ask for blood work, explaining that my exercise habits are “normal” or deal with insurance and all that jazz.
Researchers have now identified so many biomarkers for various things, that there is no real way to test for every single one. I was fortunate that InsideTracker gave me the “Ultimate” screening, which looked at 30 different biomarkers that they claim are important to physical health and performance. Some of these biomarkers include the things you’d expect if health is of concern: cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, bone health, sex hormones, and metabolism.
Depending on your results they make suggestions to optimize your levels based on your lifestyle, which include things like ways to target nutritional or hormonal deficiencies. And it seems to me they can give pretty good insight into how well your body is coping with your training load.
What did my results find?
I love data, so it’s not surprising that I was pretty excited about getting a huge panel of results. The presentation of the results made it very easy to read and digest, particularly in comparison to blood test results from a doctor’s office. I found the results from my testing to be super helpful. While nothing was too terribly off, I had some areas I could improve and I have to say, after a week of heeding IT’s suggestions for me, I started to feel much fresher even with a 90-mile block in six days! After a few weeks of sluggishness, I was back to hammering out workouts and being moderately productive for the remainder of the day, rather than just thinking about the next nap. Coincidence?
Markers that were low:
Oxygen transfer and blood function biomarkers, which are particularly important for female endurance athletes. My hemoglobin, ferritin, and iron were a little on the low side. IT suggested I add more leafy greens, red meat and peanut butter to the Pesto meal plan.
Vitamin B12, which is important for energy production and muscle repair. IT suggested I add salmon once a week, include a supplement, or eat fortified cereals with milk.
C-Reactive Protein, a measure of inflammation throughout the body. I suspect that with an autoimmune disease my baseline is already a little higher than average, but IT suggested I eat more berries, which is fine by me especially in these hot summer months!
Markers that were high:
Liver enzymes, aspartate transaminase (AST) and alanine transaminase (ALT) were exceptionally high. Why does the liver matter you ask? Apart from helping with the occasional glass of wine, the liver converts glucose (carbohydrates) to energy. To lower these, IT suggested I include more probiotics (e.g. Kombucha, yogurt, etc.), healthy fats (e.g. avocados, nuts and their oils), dried fruits, and cranberry juice.
Markers that were optimal:
Calcium and Vitamin D were within the optimal range. Take that stress fracture from last spring! (Also, I was glad to see my daily dose of ice cream is paying off!)
Folate, needed for cell repair and production.
White blood cell counts were all good!
Testosterone to cortisol ratio. This was something that I thought was super interesting. Research suggests sleep as a way to improve this ratio. My early bedtimes seem totally reasonable now!
By no stretch am I suggesting that something like Inside Tracker should replace medical professionals! I do, however, think they can provide some pretty decent data about your physiology. They are a great way to get a good picture of your overall health during different periods of training. This sort of testing can be a great first pass, however if a number of biomarkers are off, that would certainly warrant a more rigorous workup.
Don’t forget to weigh in with your thoughts, experiences, and questions about InsideTracker!
[A note from Salty: Pesto received a free InsideTracker report for including her training log, but Salty Running has not been compensated at all by InsideTracker. We felt InsideTracker is an interesting topic of conversation so we wanted to take this opportunity to discuss it!]