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Bloodwork 101

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The fitness and bodybuilding industry goes through phases and trends just as fast as any other industry.  When something catches on, it really catches on.  More times than not, these are negative trends.  However, one positive trend seems to be moving in the right direction, and that is the importance of bloodwork. 

Checking your blood levels is just as important as taking that pre-workout (obviously bloodwork is much more important than pre-workout, I am being facetious).  We spend a lot of money on food, supplements, gym memberships, and other things to help us build the physique we aspire to.  Health typically goes to the backburner as far as importance to a bodybuilder.  To maximize what we do in and out of the gym we need to place a greater emphasis on our health and health markers. 

Blood tests are relatively inexpensive (especially when you consider how expensive it would be to have an undetected health issue fly under the radar).  The nice thing about the internet age we live in is that getting private lab work done is fairly simple.  It’s difficult to talk to your doctor about why you want to check your bloodwork more frequently than what insurance recommends (most recommend once a year).  This is especially the case for enhanced bodybuilder’s using substances and drugs not prescribed by a doctor.  When ordering private lab work, make sure that you look closely at what is being tested.  For example, a male panel does not typically show estrogen levels, a hormone very important to both male and female bodybuilders.    

You may think that as a bodybuilder the most important things to test for would be hormones: testosterone, thyroid, estrogen, etc.  However, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  While yes, hormones are extremely important to bodybuilders, other health markers are probably even more important and crucial. 

The following is a very high-level overview of what to look for on blood work.  Just like with many things in bodybuilding, bloodwork and levels are very person dependent and individual.  The ranges given are what is considered “in range” and should be read in that context.  If you have a health concern, speak your physician.

These are the most important factors when considering bloodwork readings.  There are other important readings when it comes to bloodwork, but this is a general beginner’s guide to lab work.  These ranges are for males (sorry ladies). 

Testosterone (250-1070 ng/dL)

This one seems like a no-brainer, but there’s more to it than just looking at one number.  Total testosterone is the number that steals the show.  A normal range for total testosterone is between 250 ng/dL to 1070 ng/dL.  The problem with this range is that someone with a total testosterone of 1000 is going to feel a lot different (read: better) than someone with a reading of 300.  Free testosterone is another range of testosterone typically tested.  Free testosterone is part of the total testosterone reading, but think of it as the available testosterone in your body.  Normal ranges for free testosterone falls in the 9-30 ng/dL range, with the percentage of free range being in 1.6-2.9 percent of total testosterone. 

Estrogen (5-53)

Another no-brainer, but the ugly step child to testosterone when it comes bloodwork.  Testosterone is the sought-after hormone, and estrogen typically is whatever the opposite of sought after is.  Estradiol normal ranges are between 5-53.  High estrogen can cause a host of issues in males including: increased body fat, loss of muscle, gynecomastia, low libido, depression, and many other negative effects.

Thyroid

T3: 2.3-4.2
T4: 4.5-12 
TSH: .350-5.5

The thyroid panel consists of a few different readings that all affect the thyroid in different ways.  Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is a messenger to the thyroid gland.  This then in turn tells the pituitary gland how much or how little to produce.

T3 is the active thyroid hormone that directly affects metabolism and body temperature regulation.

T4 is the carrier of thyroid hormone, so it is just as important as T3 in ensuring metabolism is operating effectively. 

Cholesterol

LDL: 0-99
HDL: 40-59
Total: 100-199

Cholesterol values are very underrated, but extremely important to overall health.  Cholesterol is present in every single living cell in the body.  The liver produces a good amount of the cholesterol in our bodies, but we also get it from food as well.  Cholesterol is also responsible for vitamin D conversion and hormone synthesis.  Without cholesterol being in a healthy range, you might as well kiss testosterone levels goodbye.  This is especially the case for those not on testosterone replacement. 

Cholesterol gets a bad rap as far as the generalization that all cholesterol is bad.  This is not the case and is flat out wrong.  Cholesterol is a necessary component of how our bodies operate and function.

HDL is considered the “good cholesterol” in that it helps to expel excess cholesterol in the body and transports to the liver.  LDL is the cholesterol that is transported to your arteries and may cause issues such as blockages. 

Many things lead to high cholesterol or a poor lipid panel such as obesity, lack of exercise, and poor diet choices.

Creatinine (0.5-1.5)

Creatinine is a chemical waste substance from muscle metabolism.  Creatine (hey we know what that is) is converted to creatinine.  Creatinine levels are a direct reflection of how well the kidneys are working.  Essentially this is the value that tells us whether or not we have kidney issues.  Increased levels of creatinine can also tell if there are prostate issues such as enlargement or cancer. 

ALT (7-55)

ALT is basically your liver value readings and determines how well your liver is functioning.  This is very important for bodybuilders, especially those that supplement with oral and hepatotoxic chemicals and drugs.  Liver value readings can get incredibly high for those that supplement with these drugs, especially at the tail end of a contest prep.  Liver values are one of the few things you can correct in a relatively short period of time. 

Blood Sugar (70-100 mg/dL)

Another value directly reflected by certain supplementation (insulin) is blood sugar.  There are other supplements that attribute to blood sugar being high such as growth hormone, peptides, and even MK-677.  Supplements are not the only things that affect blood sugar, but also pushing carbohydrates.    

I won’t go into the advantages of good blood sugar values, but they are immense.  This is something that needs to be taken very seriously.

Potassium (3.6-5.2) Sodium (135-145)

As we know, potassium and sodium are both electrolytes that have important functions in the body.  Too much or too little of these, and you could be dealing with some serious issues.  For bodybuilders supplementing with diuretics pre-contest, it’s important to understand these blood levels. 

Hemoglobin (14-18) Hematocrit (40-54%)

Hematocrit is the amount of red blood cells in the blood stream.  Too many and your blood can be too voluminous and thick.  Certain bodybuilding drugs can cause your red blood cell count to be too high.  Hemoglobin is the protein molecule found in blood that carries oxygen.  It’s important to monitor these two items, especially during a cycle that could have negative effects on these values. 

Take Action!

This is a very high-level overview of some important factors to look at when reading lab work results.  There are obviously many other things that are important on blood work, but these are some of the main ones to look at for bodybuilders.  We push our bodies hard with dieting, training, and supplementation, so we need to be diligent in ensuring we are staying relatively healthy.  Bloodwork is only part of the equation, it’s also important to monitor blood pressure and other health markers.

Now take action and get your bloodwork done!   

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