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What Blood Tests Should Athletes Take?
Athletes need to maintain top physical condition for peak performance. Their health and well-being can make all the difference between achieving a personal best and finishing at the back of the pack.
That’s why elite athletes maintain a rigorous, finely-tuned schedule of training workouts, conditioning sessions, and rest days. But it’s more than that: Athletes need to make sure they get enough sleep, nutrients, and hydration to support the grueling demands they put on their bodies.
So they’re doing everything right, but how are they doing? How are they feeling? Physical examinations, performed by a qualified physician, can ensure that an athlete is on track with their regimen and that they aren’t experiencing complications from the intense exertion their sport demands. These exams should include a check for injuries, a review of any symptoms, and, most importantly, blood tests for athletes.
Why Athletes Should Get Their Blood Work Done
The right blood tests can give athletes, their trainers, or any other member of their support team insightful health data. This information can be used to adjust or align workout schedules, diet plans, or other aspects of training.
Blood tests are also versatile. An athlete can be tested for hormones, chemicals, cholesterol, and other health markers. A blood test can hone in on specific areas of concern or offer a comprehensive picture of overall health. An athlete can take actionable steps to improve their health and performance using the results. Blood tests for athletic performance should be an important component of any regimen.
What Types of Blood Tests Are Best for Athletes?
Athletes looking to incorporate regular blood tests into their healthcare maintenance could do well with the following tests:
A complete blood count is critical for monitoring an athlete’s overall health. This test assesses a variety of markers and can be used to diagnose or treat several disorders. Some of the components tested in a CBC include red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), hemoglobin, and platelets, among others.
How can an athlete use a CBC test? For instance, RBCs and the hemoglobin level can indicate if the muscles are getting enough oxygen. Lower hemoglobin or irregularly shaped RBCs may point to anemia, while high levels of WBCs can be a sign of infection. And if an athlete is prone to injury, they may want to monitor their platelet count; platelets are necessary for normal blood clotting.
A hormone imbalance can be a serious issue for anyone, especially athletes. Hormones play a role in everything from muscle repair and growth to metabolism and energy production. A hormone test is perhaps the best way to track these levels to make sure they aren’t too low or too high. Some of the most common hormones to test are cortisol, insulin, thyroid, and sex hormones.
A hormone panel blood test for athletes should be considered if there are symptoms present that can affect performance. These may include fatigue, weakened or stiff muscles, weight gain, and irregular heart rate.
People say, “you are what you eat” because vitamins and minerals are essential for most bodily functions. Nutrient deficiencies can have a domino effect, taking their toll on an athlete’s health in any number of ways that can detract from their health and performance.
Vitamin B12, for instance, supports proper nerve, blood, and brain function, and a lack of B12 raises the risk of fatigue, poor mobility, dizziness, impaired vision, and more.
The great thing about a nutrient blood test is that it delivers actionable results. If an athlete is low on vitamin D, for example, they can start supplementing or adjusting their diet to regain balance.
Fatigue Profile Test
Prolonged fatigue is a real concern for athletes, and it’s not surprising; feeling exhausted or worn out can throw the mightiest athletes off their game. It’s important to try and identify the source of the fatigue, such as hormonal imbalances, sleep deficits, nutrient deficiencies, or a medical condition.
Because fatigue is related to so many health issues, a combined fatigue profile is helpful. This test checks for a wide variety of fatigue-related concerns with just one blood draw. Once the problem is pinpointed, an athlete can seek proper treatment or modify their schedule accordingly.
Injuries are a common problem for athletes, which means they’re also dealing with inflammation, which is a natural element of the body’s healing process. Inflamed muscles or joints can last for a long time, perhaps even weeks or months, hampering an athlete’s training and performance.
Blood tests that check for inflammation can help an athlete determine if they are rebounding from an injury or if medical intervention is needed for a chronic issue.
Strong muscles need strong levels of creatine kinase, an enzyme that is necessary for normal function. Athletes are experts at staying on top of muscle pain, so creatine kinase blood tests are a great tool to help determine if their pain is caused by a damaged muscle. From there, the athlete can determine the best method for healing the injury, such as an extended recovery period to reduce muscle stress.
Infections can keep even the greatest athletes down, causing missed valuable training time or even important games or events. There are many types of tests for infectious diseases, either viral or bacterial. Some tests focus on elevated white blood cell counts, while others look at specific antigens triggered by germs or antibodies produced by the immune system in response to an infection.
Typical signs of infection include cough, fever, vomiting, sore throat, and more. After the invading pathogen is discovered, a physician can prescribe the proper treatment, such as antibiotics for a bacterial infection.
Athletes pour themselves into their sport, sometimes literally, when it comes to excessive sweating. This elevates the risk of electrolyte imbalance. Replenishing electrolytes can help an athlete regain strength and vitality; a severe loss of sodium or potassium due to dehydration can weaken and fatigue athletes, making it difficult to participate in the sports they love.
An electrolyte panel is a good way to track an athlete’s levels, preventing imbalances or reversing them before they get too serious. That stops symptoms in their tracks, so athletes don’t miss a single step in their training.
When Should Athletes Take Blood Tests?
These blood tests for athletes can be done during annual wellness checks or more often if a condition needs monitoring.
How Athletes Can Level Up Their Game With Blood Testing
Blood tests are an easy, effective way for athletes to make their health the top priority. They can be used to establish baseline levels, provide early detection of medical issues that need prompt attention, or monitor the progress of any treatment to make sure it’s working. Blood tests are quick and convenient because they can be performed at many labs, and in most states, athletes can order their own blood tests online without waiting to get a doctor’s approval. Blood tests for athletic performance are ideal for any athlete who gives it their all in pursuit of the sport they love.
Dr. Edward Salko is the board-certified physician who reviews lab tests provided by PERSONALABS™. He earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med from the University of Florida in Gainesville and his Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine in 1980 from Kansas City University School of Medicine.