Understanding Blood Work for Bodybuilders

I recommend my clients go for a regularly scheduled physical with blood work at least once a year and ideally a few weeks before starting a prep. Whether you may feel healthy or not, it’s important to monitor all the things that can easily go unnoticed because occasionally it’s the little things that can develop into bigger issues if left unchecked for years at a time. You’ll never look your best if your body is not healthy.

When getting blood work done, it’s important to understand the impact that intense training has on the results of your testing and remember that a bodybuilder’s blood work won’t always fit into the “normal” ranges currently set for reference purposes. Many general physicians are fully aware of this and will interpret the results of your test accordingly, based on your active lifestyle. Others however, tend to think more black and white and will raise concerns if you’re a little outside of the allotted normal ranges.

Training and specifically intense resistance training will place an increased stress on the body including microtrauma to muscle tissue or little tears and damage to the fibers that will in turn lead to growth through the recovery process. It’s during this natural recovery process that inflammation occurs – sending help to the damaged site to help speed recovery and regenerate the tissue. During this process, various enzymes tend to become elevated in the body that can later show up on your blood work and push you out of the normal set ranges.

So how do you get around this? Do your blood work after a week of de-training or less intense / not to failure training and be sure you are very well hydrated prior to the test. I know, I know, it may kill a few of you not to destroy yourselves in the gym for a week, but if you want more accurate readings of how healthy your body is, do your blood work when your body has had a chance to rest and recover. This will allow a few of the enzymes to return to more normal levels and have a more accurate blood and urine test completed. Several of the noted enzymes if significantly elevated, could also be markers for something more serious or a disease state that you will want to follow up on, so you want to rule out that your elevations are more from the training and not from something to be overly concerned with. Also, make sure your doctor is aware of your regular gym rat habits, if it’s not entirely evident you even look like you lift…bro.

Some of the more commonly identified markers that lifters tend to see outside the normal ranges are as follows:

Liver enzymes (i.e. ALT, AST) – the combination of intense training and a high protein diet can lead to elevations in ALT and AST. When you train hard, the damaged muscle tissue releases the enzymes into the blood, which then collects in the liver. The liver also plays a huge role in the amino acid conversion process so when you’re on a high protein diet, these enzymes get upregulated to help out. Neither of these two mechanisms are anything to be overly concerned with on their own, however you shouldn’t just write them off entirely if they remain chronically elevated.

Creatine kinase (CK) – elevated levels could be the result of muscle damage from intense training. The harder you’ve been training, taking sets to failure and ‘killin’ it’ in the gym, the greater the likelihood your CK levels will show up as “high”.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) – As we break down muscle tissue and consume more protein, we increase the production of and removal of excess nitrogen from the body. This is not necessarily a sign of dysfunction, but moreso evidence of a process occurring at a higher rate of turnover compared to the norm.

High sensitive C-reactive protein (HsCRP) – this is a fairly reliable marker of inflammation and could suggest you’re in an overtrained state if elevated.

Creatinine – This is by product of creatine phosphate breakdown and can become elevated with creatine supplementation, a high meat intake, muscle breakdown or even simply carrying a higher amount of muscle mass.

Bottom line – Do your blood work in rested state, be well hydrated, don’t freak out if a few levels are outside the norm, but don’t write them off either. Always follow up if levels remain elevated even after some time off the gym. Take care of your health and your body – we only get one. You’ll

In addition to the standard blood panel test, when requesting blood work, try to ensure your blood work covers:

-Testosterone

-Estrogen – Estradiol

-Cortisol

-DHEA

-Growth hormone

-IGF-1

-Thyroid Hormones – TSH, T3, T4

-LH and FSH

-SHBG

-HsCRP

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