You provide samples (vials) of your blood to InsideTracker. They analyze your blood, and based on the results they make nutritional and lifestyle recommendations which, if you follow, will optimize your athletic performance.
That’s the idea. I gave this a try. Below is my result. But as backdrop…
A recent Slowtwitch Poll showed that readers are all over the map as regards diet, and this did flow into a discussion on the optimal diet for athletes. InsideTracker believes it can answer this question by answering this question for you, as an individual, rather than as a member of a cohort.
Plans range from $109 up to $589 for the “Ultimate”. In deciding which plan would be best for endurance athletes, the support staff recommended to me the High Performance ($299) or the Ultimate ($589). These are the most popular, and the only difference between plans is the inclusion of additional biomarkers, such as Cortisol, Free Testosterone, SHBG, Iron, and a few others. The price may seem steep for the Ultimate, but I’m advised that similar tests conducted by a health professional could cost more than $1000.00, without any recommendations.
As a triathlete, father of 3, and working in a high stress job I decided on the Ultimate based on a couple of key biomarkers about which I was curious, notably: cortisol, testosterone, and iron. I also opted for their “White Glove” service, a nice option for busy lifestyles where InsideTracker will make a house call to draw blood samples.
After purchasing a plan customers receive an email with a link to create an account on InsideTracker. As part of the account set-up users are prompted to answer a few health, fitness, and lifestyle questions that are used to assist in providing individualized recommendations based on the results of the lab work. The response to these questions, along with the results of select biomarkers, are used in a metric referred to as “InnerAge”. Look at this as your FTP for health. InnerAge is the difference between your outside age (i.e., chronological age) and your inside age based on your lifestyle and your inner workings (i.e., how old your body thinks you are).
After finalizing my appointment and later providing 3-4 vials of blood, the process was over. From the initial purchase to providing the samples took 3 days, and later I received the results (typical is 3-to-5 business days). The most painful part of the entire process was the 12 hours of fasting required for the Ultimate Plan. Of note, InsideTracker suggests scheduling your testing after an easy week of training, preferably during a rest day. I’ll discuss the important of this later.
Results & Recommendations
InsideTracker assembled a kind of nutritionaldream team in the development and implementation of the results and recommendations dashboard. This is InsideTracker’s secret sauce.
(Note: In September 2016, InsideTracker added complete blood count (CBC) to the Ultimate, Performance, and High Performance Plan that are not shown in the results above).
My results provide an overview of what clients can expect to see. They indicate whether the results are deemed optimal (green), sub-optimal but acceptable (yellow), or what requires immediate attention (red). I had a few reds, but not the ones I expected. InsideTracker clearly noted any biomarkers that required immediate attention via a separate email with only those results and a recommendation that I discuss them with my family physician. This is important because InsideTracker makes it clear that they do not provide medical advice; they are focused on optimized health and performance.
InsideTracker distinguishes itself from traditional health care by offering recommendations to optimize your health, rather than “not being in a state of illness.”
The heart of InsideTracker lies in the personalized recommendations based on the results and their aim for optimal levels. For example, InsideTracker asks users to identify their food preferences, dietary preferences (Gluten Free, Paleo Diet, etc.), and goals (e.g. Lose Fat, Endurance, etc.) and then organizes the recommendations based on those responses. InsideTracker provides a customized nutrition plan based on a user’s current state. Further, for each biomarker, it provides a recommendation with rationale, supported references, and the degree of scientific certainty via a 5-star rating system. Clients also have an option to receive SMS or email reminders of the recommendations on a daily or weekly basis.
Professional triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker is an example of a professional athlete who had been relying on bloodwork through a doctor but has found success with InsideTracker. Jarrod has been using InsideTracker to “to keep track of a couple of markers that seem to move around a lot on me. In general, I have been fairly good, so no crazy numbers have shown up for me, although I know that other athletes have had some great aha moments when seeing their blood work come back.” Along with all the positive stories however, there are some key points to consider prior to making any lifestyle changes after a single test result.
The validity of the results may depend on when the blood samples were taken. InsideTracker recommends taking the test during a rest week for good reason. The results of certain biomarkers can be affected by training load, stress, poor sleep, or poor diet. Further, although there is considerable literature to support what is optimal, there is always a chance optimal is not optimal for you, a risk that can be alleviated through multiple tests.
There are probably few health concerns associated with using InsideTracker as all the recommendations are either diet- or lifestyle-directed, some of which are common sense. Clients can also get a more accurate picture by conducting multiple tests over the course of a training season, a fact InsideTracker recognizes and addresses through its Road Mapping for the season (which addresses the concern of examining data in isolation).
Road Mapping is a service InsideTracker provides to clients who subscribe to multiple tests. Clients can obtain a free telephone consult with Mariah Bridges, who specializes in triathletes, to discuss optimizing their results/performance and preparation for an athletes A race. Clients who subscribe to multiple tests also receive a discount from 16% (2 Tests) to 28% (4 Tests).
I also had a chance to discuss the use of blood with an expert in performance nutrition, Asker Jeukendrup (Twitter @jeukendrup), from mysportscience.com, who echoed some of the possible concerns/best practices with the use of biomarkers in health and performance:
“The vast majority of blood markers are difficult to use because of changes over time and the vast number of external factors that influence the values. Especially and training can have a profound effect on the measured blood variables. In addition, standardization is crucial. If measurements are done in a dehydrated state some of the values may be high, if overhydrated the opposite may be the case. The time of day matters, the diet matters. Most importantly, such measurements are usually done at one time point only. These markers are far more meaningful when baseline measurements are established. That means many measurements in the same conditions.
“We performed many carefully controlled studies looking for early markers of overtraining, for example, and we found that the value of blood markers was extremely limited. Although a range of markers can be and were measured, none of these helped in a significant way to identify early overtraining. Other simple markers such as sleeping heart rate, mood state, simple questionnaires and performance measurements were more useful.”
InsideTracker does a great job of presenting its results in layman’s terms. It cites the science behind its recommendations, and allows clients to choose what will work best for them through nutritional strategies.
Its online layout is easy to read and its nutritional recommendations to optimize a customer’s biomarkers can be customized by food or diet preference.
InsideTracker also has an active blog service that is free and worth checking out if considering their plans or have an interest in nutrition as it relates to health and performance.
In deciding which test, the Ultimate Plan might be a good place to start for an initial test. However, depending on results and priorities, downgrading to the High Performance Plan ($299) or Vitality ($389) for subsequent tests would be a cost-effective choice. It is important to realize the limitations of single measurements of blood markers. Linking it to performance is even more problematic.
Upcoming will be a follow-up after I receive subsequent reports on second and third blood tests from InsideTracker. Also I’ll be writing about a company providing recommendations on DNA testing, which could fill in some gaps left open by blood testing only.