Athlete Blood Testing Myths and Misconceptions.

Published by Ańna on

You only need a blood test if you have symptoms such as fatigue or slow recovery.

Athletes should get tested before they develop symptoms. Typically, by the time you feel the impact of unsatisfactory biomarker levels, your body likely has been performing below its potential for a while, and you’ll be challenged to get it back on track.  By checking biomarkers before symptoms develop, athletes avoid suboptimal or high levels that can hinder their performance.

Work smarter, not harder. 

Meat is bad for athletes.

NO food is inherently good or bad. Meat can be part of a healthy diet as it is a complete protein and provides zinc, iron, and b vitamins. The healthiest/longest living cultures do eat some meat- although it is less than you might think: on average, five servings per month.  They eat mostly plant proteins instead on a regular basis.   

You have to eat meat or dairy to get enough protein.

The plant-based movement has become quite popular.  We now have more data on it. Current data suggests that many athletes don’t need to eat animal foods, but they do need to eat enough protein. 

Animal proteins are more concentrated (meaning you have to eat less to get the same amount of protein), but it’s very possible to get all of the amino acids you need from plants.  It just might require more focus and planning.  

If you plan on incorporating more plant-based proteins, ensure you get a wide variety of sources like soy, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grain, and legumes such as lentils and split peas. Eating a variety makes you more likely to get enough protein and amino acids to create complete protein combinations because most plant proteins aren’t complete. 

One note: Athlete Blood Test doesn’t endorse any specific nutritional strategy or “diet.”  We typically provide you with recommendations based on what you’ve chosen.   But sometimes, we have to make athletes aware that the data suggests that the strategy they’ve chosen simply isn’t working for them for some reason.  Sometimes it is how they implement it- and a few tweaks and focus will fix the issue(s).  But sometimes, further testing, including genetic testing, shows that some athletes have a much higher hill to climb (so to speak) to maintain the diet or strategy they want and still get all the nutrition they need.  

More data is emerging on this, but what we’ve seen suggests that there are indeed, some athletes that do much better on a plant-based diet, while others will struggle mightily without animal protein.  

I don’t feel good in training, but my blood levels are all optimal, so am I’m fine?

This is something we come across quite often.  We ask athletes to complete a questionnaire that tells them how they “feel”- a subjective and qualitative question. Blood analysis can tell a lot, but the numbers can’t tell everything. Often we can say, “X is low, take such and such supplement, and you’ll feel better in training.”  But sometimes we can’t.  Even if everything in your blood test is optimal for performance, it’s still useful information. You can cross off potential causes on the list and try to look elsewhere for the cause of that crappy feeling.

Carbs cause weight gain.

Carbs often get blamed for weight gain, but this isn’t what you think it is. When you eat carbs, you pull 3-4g of water into the muscle for every gram of carbohydrate. This often equates to ~5-7lb weight gain, but it’s NOT tissue (i.e. fat or muscle), it’s stored energy and water. The extra weight from carbs is necessary for top-end performance, speed, and power. Imagine if NASA refused to fill the rocket ships with rocket fuel because it would technically make the rocket heavier…that’s what you’re doing if you cut carbs. Conversely, when people go on a low-carb diet and report losing 5-10 lbs in the first week, it’s glycogen and water, it’s not actual fat loss. Carbs are your secret weapon, not something to fear or limit.

In fact, the female body is particularly sensitive to low-carbohydrate intake because of their role in sustaining a healthy menstrual cycle. 

I should get a blood test on my off day.

Ideally, get a blood test the day after your recovery day. This allows some of your biomarkers to normalize a bit to reflect more of your baseline rather than the workout you did the day before. If possible, get it the morning after your recovery day.

Fat is bad.

fatty foods for athletes

Fat is essential for life- if you don’t eat fat, you’ll die. And it is an important part of an athlete’s nutrition.  Fat is necessary to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. It also improves satiety and keeps you full longer, not to mention improves the mouth feel of foods. Eating fat doesn’t mean you’ll gain fat, so eat up in moderation, of course.  

I’ll just have my blood tested at my doctor’s office.

When your blood is analyzed by your doctor, they look at it from a deficiency and disease perspective. This is very important, but many athletes want more.

The “normal” ranges are set for the general population, which is generally sedentary. Athletes are far from sedentary. The levels for merely getting by in daily activities and avoiding disease can be very different from what’s ideal from an athletic performance perspective (i.e., what you need to PR and feel great doing it!). 

Also, many medical providers are not trained to interpret biomarkers from a performance perspective. That said, we do recommend that you share your blood testing results with your personal physician.  We don’t provide medical advice, and your blood test results can be an important piece of information that your physician uses when assessing your general health and wellness or helps you pinpoint a medical issue. 

Often insurance won’t cover many of the blood markers we look at, and it can be more cost-effective to pay out of pocket after you save on co-pays and out-of-pocket lab expenses that are not covered by insurance.

Cholesterol is bad!

Cholesterol is a substance your body needs for good health. It’s an essential part of every cell in your body that’s needed to make hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that help you digest your food. It’s made in the liver and also found in animal foods (eggs, meat, & dairy products). Cholesterol gets a bad rap because if there’s too much, it can combine with other substances in the blood to form plaque.

It doesn’t matter where I get my blood tested.

Not all blood testing is equal! Athlete Blood Test has been collecting data on athletes for over 13 years. We’ve refined the optimal range for athletes based on research and athletic performance. Here at ABT, we also have an expert go through each blood test and create customized recommendations based on the athlete’s lifestyle, preferences, and the big picture of the test results. 

You should eat a lot less on rest days.

Your body’s working overtime on rest/recovery days to repair tissue damage, restore hormone levels back to baseline, remodel bone, and many other processes. Athletes should still consume their normal meals. They obviously won’t have workout nutrition, but the rest of the day may be identical or very similar to training days. Some athletes may even be hungrier on rest days; they should eat if they are hungry. The body is trying to restore glycogen and recover from workouts during the week, all of which takes energy. 

Check out more off-season tips for athletes.

More volume is better.

If you are too depleted to have quality training sessions, they are counterproductive and can lead to injury, illness, and poor mood/energy. Some top athletes have been very successful in having moderate training loads rather than doing as much as possible.

Also, keep in mind that if you’re not a pro and you have other responsibilities during the day besides training, eating, and napping, you won’t be able to recover as much as the pros who can nap, eat, and don’t have other outside career stressors. 

One of the things that Athlete Blood Test looks at when reviewing your blood test data is whether your body is successfully handling the volume and intensity of the training you are doing.  Every athlete is different- some athletes’ bodies can handle a heavy and intense training load with no problem.  Others need quite a bit more recovery.  It all depends on the athlete, and your blood test can help us determine the right strategy for you.