What’s really going on with your body, asks age-grouper Amy Kilpin.
It’s all well and good scrutinising your heart rate every day and knocking back recovery drinks, but how is your body really coping with all the training and racing stress you’ve been putting it under?
I’ve been quite good at factoring in rest this season. Due to the high volume of racing, I’ve been stricter about rest days and have even taken a whole week off training a couple of times throughout the year. I didn’t want to end up in the same state of end-of-season fatigue as last year – it wasn’t pretty!
What’s more, I’ve been careful to recover sufficiently from races by eating the right things and supplementing with key vitamins and minerals. You’ve got to look after yourself or illness and injury will be in rapid pursuit.
However, you can feel fit and healthy, but still not be able to get your heart rate up to where it should be, or recover quite as quickly from sessions as you might like to. I’ve had this before.
Ultimately, you might not be performing at your potential. I decided to find out if I was performing at my best. Venturing beyond the conventional and more palpable health signals is a company called InDurance, which provides comprehensive blood profiling for athletes.
Your blood is tested and analysed, then benchmarked against where the requirements should be for an athlete (which are higher than those of a “normal” person).
I took the tests towards the latter part of my season, when my body was in the most demanding environment it would experience all year. I braced myself to expect deficiencies.
The tests are incredibly comprehensive. They take into account a vast profile of the blood cell components, such as haemoglobin, haematocrit (the volume percentage of red blood cells in blood), zinc, iron storage, folic acid and a lot of things I can’t even pronounce let alone spell. They produce more thorough and accurate results than a GP would offer.
So, the results? As it happens, they were slightly disappointingly. I couldn’t really improve. I was within the performance range of pretty much most of these metrics with no significant depletions or deficiencies.
Most surprisingly, my red cell function was described as “excellent, with a good vibrant haemoglobin and haematocrit at a very difficult stage of the season.”
Apparently, this is quite uncommon as midseason is when athletes most often get tired, and borderline anaemia (a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the blood) can appear on the profile. I was told by Dr Will Mangar, InDurance medical director, that I am “probably genetically predisposed for endurance sports”, hence my high haemoglobin and haematocrit.
Isn’t genetics one of those things you can use as a great excuse? In all seriousness, I was delighted to hear this. Right after I’d picked my jaw off the floor.
I would never have imagined I had any genetic predisposition towards sporting ability. None of my family is sporty and I never really participated in any sport growing up. This was great and weird in equal measure.
Then Dr Mangar found out I was a vegetarian. He was surprised. My tests came back with a strong mineral profile, apparently testament to a very good diet.
I must be doing something right then. It was very encouraging to hear that I had been eating the right things, and that I was strong on the inside too. I rarely get ill, so I guess that’s another indicator.
I was almost disappointed that we didn’t find anything we could address. I was looking forward to seeing what difference it could make. Although it’s reassuring to know that even in the middle of a tough race season, I am posting a supremely strong blood profile. Knowing that you are doing everything you can on the outside to keep in the best form imaginable, and for that to be translating internally too, is much of what you require to be a successful athlete.
It might produce marginal gains but if you have concerns about your performance or you want to put your mind at rest, blood profiling provides a pretty interesting insight into your body.
I now know that I can enter my off-season after a strong year of racing with no health worries and I can focus on the right things. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts in the end.
Amy was tested by InDurance (indurance.co.uk). Prices start at £65.