Do I really need more than one blood analysis per year?

Published by ABT Staff on

If you are serious about performing better as an athlete—whether that means winning, getting that PR or PB, or just more fun (and less torture) —the answer is yes.  You probably need more than one blood analysis per year.    

How often should I repeat the test? 

It depends on the athlete.  But our general recommendation is to start with a baseline analysis during your offseason.  Our Gold, ABT.she or if you can swing it, the Platinum.  If you want more details on establishing a baseline, read our article on Baseline Biomarkers.

Next, get an analysis of towards the end of a big training block (2 to 3 months of hard training). Now, you can see how training volume and intensity impact blood biomarker levels. You can adjust and add recovery days during your next training block or shorten that block by a few weeks. 

If possible, repeat this cycle throughout the year or through a few training cycles. Eventually, many athletes figure out how to stay dialed in and only need one or two tests a year unless they start feeling “off” or have major life changes. 

Another time to test is before a major competition—but you want to give yourself enough time to adjust. Aim for at least 4-6 weeks out. 

Finally, it is always good to do repeat blood testing when making or undergoing changes. Changes to nutrition or supplements (whether adding or subtracting), life changes (for example, returning to sport after pregnancy or injury), or increases in training volume or intensity. 

Benefits of Repeat Testing. 

Repeat testing has many benefits.  Here are just a few: 

What are YOUR normal blood levels?

Repeat testing helps determine what is normal for you.

Tom (name changed to protect his privacy), for example, a professional triathlete, consistently runs low in testosterone. His “normal” is outside of standard lab ranges. It is even slightly outside of the optimal athlete range for someone his age and his training volume and intensity.

Someone else with Tom’s testosterone numbers might feel weak or have a hard time recovering, but he doesn’t. And that is really important for Tom, his coaches, his RDs, and Athlete Blood Test to know so we don’t attempt to fix what isn’t broken. 

Athletes and their blood are constantly changing.

Take the analogy of a river. Our blood flows through our bodies like a river through a forest. Rivers constantly change, including because of the environment and seasonal variations. Scientists study river ecology to understand the environmental impact on the river. 

We look at blood similarly. Athletes and their blood constantly change from day to day, workout to workout. As we follow athletes through seasons and years, we look for variations associated with environmental factors. Some examples include training volume, training intensity, nutritional changes, life stressors, overall physical and mental health, natural aging, digestive issues, supplement intake, sleep, sun exposure, and even personal relationships. 

Sometimes, athletes don’t even realize the impact factors have on performance until we see a change in their bloodwork and compare it to what is happening around them. Armed with this knowledge, athletes can keep what is working for them and change what isn’t.

Athletes should know how nutrition, training, and supplement strategy (and any modifications) impact their body.

Testing during a light training period and during “peak” training helps athletes see how their bodies respond.

For example, one athlete may withstand the high intensity and volume of training with little to no impact on blood biomarkers compared to their light training phase. Another athlete using a similar training plan might find out they need more folate and iron during big training blocks. Yet another may show hormonal variations that clue us into excess muscle breakdown, indicating that they may need to back off on volume or intensity.  

Relatedly, if athletes make changes following one blood test, re-testing helps them see if their modifications are working (or not). Take Jenny as an example. Jenny is a collegiate swimmer. She kept having low folate levels despite increasing her intake by 2-3 servings of folate-rich food daily. Finally, Jenny decided to get a genetic test and realized she has a genetic tendency for lower folate levels. Now, Jenny consumes an appropriate intake of folate and folic acid supplements to help her achieve an ideal blood status. Since testing, Jenny has PRed and gone on to excel in swimming.  

Tweaks vs. twerks.

Tweaks are good. Twerks are bad, at least regarding nutrition, training, and recovery.  

Athletes often have a hard time making significant changes to nutrition, training schedule, and recovery habits.

Repeat testing helps athletes get to the point where they can make minor adjustments instead of major shifts, like adding in a few servings of leafy greens to increase folate or switching out a day of hard running for a cross-training day. 

Athletes need to know how nutrition, training, and supplement modifications may impact their bodies.

Over time, repeat blood analysis helps athletes better predict how they will respond to nutrition, training, and recovery changes. That means what you think it does: with repeat testing, some athletes understand their bodies so well that they don’t need blood analysis to tell them what is going on.  

For example, Joe is a long-term client who is a triathlete. He knows that his iron needs kick up significantly when he hits over 12 hours a week in training. So for the 4-5 weeks during peak training, he eats more red meat, supplements every other day, and kicks it up a notch if he’s at altitude; for most training cycles, that keeps him recovering and performing well. If it doesn’t, he gives us a call.  

Security blanket.

Some athletes just want the psychological boost that comes from knowing that they’ve got things dialed in. And that in and of itself can lead to performance gains.  

Take Beth. She’s a professional triathlete who rarely has, if ever, had a blood analysis where she is outside of either the Athlete Blood Test optimal range or her normal biomarker ranges. Yet, she comes back year over year for a check during her peak training periods to make sure she’s ready to go.  

Is she a genetic unicorn? Sort of. But she’s also worked very hard at knowing what she needs to perform. And she doesn’t feel ready to complete it unless she knows she’s good. 

The Takeaway?

Athletes should monitor their blood regularly. The frequency can vary and is dependent on many variables.

If you are serious about optimizing your performance—whatever that means to you—we recommend a baseline panel at the beginning of the season, another test towards the end of a big training block and four to six weeks before an important competition.

Categories: Ask ABT