Cole Sager is an incredibly fit and devoted athlete. The former collegiate running back for the University of Washington made it to the North West Regionals in 2013, after just a few months of doing CrossFit, and earned a spot to the Games the following year. So when Sager — headed to Regionals again this year— heard about getting his blood tested to analyze nutritional biomarkers and optimize performance, he figured he’d pass the whole thing with flying colors.
Instead, the 25-year-old got some surprising results.
“My Inner Age [test] was 15 years older based on my biomarkers than my chronological age,” Sager said of the results of one of the Boston-based company InsideTracker’s tests. “And based on fitness, I’m one of the fittest on earth. And here I’m told by this test you are not as healthy as you think you are. It was interesting and insightful.”
Welcome to the next wave of sports, nutrition and recovery. Advanced data has long been king in professional sports, as teams try to predict injuries and protect multimillion-dollar investments. But the trend has slowly infiltrated CrossFit’s upper echelon of athletes —like last year’s champ Katrin Davidsdottir — and is seen as another tool to gain an edge.
Davidsdottir’s coach, Ben Bergeron, also coaches Sager and had been using the Boston-based company InsideTracker for a while when he suggested Sager get his biomarkers checked out.
“We are all about gaining 1 percent,” Sager said of Bergeron’s philosophy. “We have an approach that we don’t need to be 10 percent better than the field to win. We only need to be 1 percent better. How many 1 percents can we accumulate to make a change in our performance? That was one of the things he thought we could improve on.”
So what exactly gets tested from your blood? Depending on the level (and price of the test), things can get pretty specific, showing hormone levels, glucose, testosterone, cholesterol, vitamins and biomarkers that don’t show up on a standard physical or blood test.
“Athletes like the structure of it,” InsideTracker’s lead nutrition scientist Ashley Reaver said of the test, which is typically set up through a nearby Quest Diagnostics. “Everyone knows they should sleep more, but it doesn’t really hit home until you see it and see what it’s doing to your cortisol and testosterone levels.”
Reaver said each individual’s test results factor in activity level when evaluating what rage of each biomarker is optimal. For example, Sager’s recommended biomarker levels would be different from his parents. They would also each get different food recommendations based on lifestyle, age, gender, etc., even if Sager and his parents turned up with similar test results.
“Family members and friends around me are interested and are like, ‘I wonder what my body is telling me.’ They think they are fit, but they don’t know what their blood is actually telling them,” said Sager, who has had four tests done so far and been encouraged with his progress and tweaks.
“You might think you have low cholesterol based on your eating habits, but maybe genetically you are predisposed to high cholesterol. That was something I dealt with, and it’s kind of alarming,” he said. “Then you are like, what’s my dad like? You know, he’s a little overweight. What’s my mom at? I think it’s something that if regular box-goers would take the time to get into doing some blood testing, I think they would get a surprising amount of knowledge and insight into some of the changes they could make.”
Change, however, comes at a cost. InsideTracker’s Ultimate test is $499 for 30 biomarkers, and the recommendation is that you get retested every three to six months. The High Performance Test is $299 and measures 20 biomarkers, down to Inner Age’s five biomarkers for $99.
“Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy,” Reaver said of a company whose slogan is ‘Blood Don't Lie.’
But Sager will be the first to admit that there’s a fine line between wanting to correct some biomarkers and overhauling an entire lifestyle based on the blood results.
“I saw a lot of positive changes and some negative ones, as well,” Sager said of his follow-up test results. “As I made changes in one area, I saw other things dip. My Inner Age got a little younger, maybe five years, nothing crazy. But some of the areas I was trying to change, did change. It’s a constant balancing act.”