Blood testing is well-known in the sports industry to screen athletes for performance-enhancing drugs before a significant event. However, they also provide insights into their bodies and maximise sports potential.
Athletes competing in the Olympics use blood testing to track their performance, progress, and general health for optimal results.
If an athlete is serious about becoming the best in their field, they must take regular blood tests. The following article defines blood testing, what it measures and the benefits. It also gives the main reasons athletes take blood tests for desirable results.
What is Blood Testing?
Blood tests are scientific measurements of data drawn from your body. It analyses biomarkers (signals that give an insight into your health). It determines if anything is too low or too high so you can adjust to reach optimal conditions.
A blood test typically measures:
- Vitamins and minerals – organic substances in your body that maintain healthy functioning. Being deficient in these areas can imbalance hormones, affect energy levels, and decrease muscle mass.
- Inflammation – internal swelling that restricts blood flow and prevents vitamins and minerals from being transported effectively around the body.
- Hormones – signals in the body that trigger certain functions. If hormone levels are not typical, it can trigger mood swings and affect sleep quality and muscle development.
- Thyroid Function – a gland that produces your hormones. If it is under or overactive, it affects weight, temperature, and mood.
All these internal factors affect sports performance if they are not regulated and balanced.
What Are the Benefits of Blood Testing?
Blood testing allows athletes to gain critical insights into their overall health. The tests give them a competitive edge over other professionals. As a result, they become fitter, stronger, and recover faster.
Which Blood Test is for Athletes?
Biomarker tests are the blood tests athletes typically use for optimal wellness. They are qualitative measurements that determine sports ability. They also provide a thorough understanding of internal factors for performance levels.
How Often Do Athletes Get Blood Tests?
Athletes get blood tests a few times a year (sometimes as many as once per month) to carefully monitor any changes in the body. They are taken more regularly during times of stress, illness, recovery or closer to the time when they will be competing.
What is an Athlete’s Blood Pressure?
Athletes tend to have blood pressure around 120/80 mm Hg. The measurement is because regular and intense training raises the heart rate, forcing blood around the body. It works the heart muscles, making it more robust, so it does not need to work as hard to circulate blood.
Does Exercise Lower Blood Pressure Immediately?
Yes. Improved circulation from exercise gets your blood flowing more quickly. Once you stop, it requires less work from your heart to push blood around the body, lowering the pressure.
7 Reasons Athletes Get Blood Tests
1. Identifies Areas for Improved Sport Performance
When biomarkers are insufficient, it affects mood, energy, muscle mass, weight, and normal bodily functioning. However, many markers are only ‘sufficient.’ That means your body is getting by, but it’s not at its highest potential. All aspects of the body must be in excellent condition for an athlete’s optimal performance.
A surprising percentage of the population is deficient in Vitamin D (it makes sense, considering the UK is primarily rainy and cloudy). Even athletes struggle with getting enough of this nutrient.
A 2016 study shows that 80% of athletes lacked the optimal amount of vitamin D for sports performance.
Identifying key factors (such as a deficiency) provides an opportunity to correct it. For example, athletes may take vitamin D supplements to give them the boost they need.
2. Ensures They Are Getting the Right Nutrition
Blood testing determines whether athletes are getting the correct nutrition for maximum performance. An inadequate amount of specific vitamins and minerals can cause severe defects, such as liver and heart disease, anaemia, and even heart failure.
Studies show that people who suffer heart failure are deficient in ‘…vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and iodine and up to 75% having low intake of vitamin D.’
Awareness of low levels enables athletes to rectify and optimise health performance. For example, they may increase their intake of dark leafy greens, omega3 and eggs to enhance vitamin A.
It also provides insight so athletes can fine-tune their diet for optimal energy during intense training. If they are increasing practice for an upcoming event, their bodies may need more whole grains, nuts, and liver to improve vitamin B and boost energy.
3. Speeds Up Recovery From Illness and Injury
Falling ill or sustaining an injury is tough on athletes. They can miss out on training, fall behind, and fail to reach their goals.
However, a blood test identifies when the immune system is low and at risk of catching illnesses. It equips athletes with the information they need to restore their bodies as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Athletes must have the correct balance of nutrients. If they don’t, it can cause inflammation, fail to protect the body against free radicals, reduce antibodies and damage cell growth.
Cell growth is essential when considering recovery from injury. Pro-athletes will inevitably maintain an injury at some point in their career. However, they must heal quickly and prevent long-lasting damage.
Therefore, a fast-paced cell turnover is critical to repairing muscles, so optimising health is crucial. Regulating vitamin C levels is an excellent way to heal the body quickly.
4. Monitors Overall Health
Providing a holistic overview of an athlete’s wellness is crucial for optimal performance. The body is a jumble of moving parts, and focusing on only one area (such as muscle repair) fails to check if the body is working in harmony.
A blood test enables sports professionals to live an overall healthy lifestyle, so they don’t only feel their best while training but in everyday life.
5. Provides Motivation
Athletes are naturally competitive, and identifying vital factors for improvement is an incentive to nurture their health. When a biomarker is underperforming, it gives them a reason to alter their lifestyle, nutrition, and habits.
It also encourages athletes to rest, which they can struggle with as they feel they are losing progress.
Athletes who sleep between nine to ten hours a night show increased speed, accuracy, endurance, and reaction time.
Although you may not consider this as ‘motivation’, it’s evidence that rest is helpful and that they do not need to train twelve hours a day. Swapping some hours for sleep improves their overall performance.
6. Enhances the Relationship With Their Body
Understanding how the body works will enable athletes to feel in tune with their physical self. They are more likely to care for themselves, recognise their needs at different times, and identify when things feel off balance.
Sometimes it’s easy for athletes to see themselves as objects that must be kept in good condition. However, respecting the body and its boundaries significantly impacts the mind-body connection. The association between both enhances mental well-being and increases resilience, a positive mindset, and focus.
7. Gives Real-Time Insights
Although athletes may have achieved optimal hormone balances and minerals in the past, it doesn’t mean the information is transferable in the future. Their bodies forgo a lot of strain. Considerable hormone changes, such as pregnancy, ageing, and medication, will alter biomarkers.
A blood test is an accurate ‘hear and now’ observation that allows professionals to adjust their nutrition accordingly.
The Main Takeaway
Blood tests allow athletes to monitor biomarkers to accurately readjust their diet, way of life, and supplementation for peak performance.
Written by Emma Carey.
Emma is a health and wellness enthusiast who likes to know the science behind how supplements, vitamins, nutrition and exercise affect the body. She’s on a health and fitness journey to improve her lifestyle and live life to its fullest.