Genetic and blood testing – is it worth it?

free-stock-photo-294-syringe-arm-draw-tourniquet-blood-drawing-needle-hypodermicThere was a time when only elite athletes had access to sophisticated analysis tools such as body composition measurements and blood chemistry. But that has changed over recent years.

Today, even the recreational or local athlete can get their hands on very rich and detailed data.

Yesterday, I went to watch my nephew compete in the strongman competition at the Arnold Classic. Among the many packed stands was a company called InBody. They market a device that uses “Direct Segmental Multi-frequency Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis”. This sends electromagnetic waves of differing frequencies thorough your body. By measuring the time it takes for different wavelengths to pass through you, it can provide what InBody says is an accurate picture of your body composition.

InBody370By the way, I paid $20 for this analysis so there are no special mate’s rates in this. Nor is this a paid advertorial.

As well as what’s under my skin, the InBody provides external measurements such as waist, thigh and arm circumference. This is a pretty nifty piece of work. When I was on the InBody machine no one brought a tape measure anywhere near me. But the machine was able to provide measurements of my chest, abdomen, arms, legs and hips. I’ve checked them against a tape measure today (about 16 hours after my five minutes on the InBody) and the data matches within 1% or so.

What did I learn?

I think I have a pretty good handle on how healthy I am and whether I’m overweight. I mentioned recently that my BMI has me on the overweight side of the scale. But, on the other hand, my cardio-vascular fitness is pretty good.

I also use a set of Fitbit Aria scales for my weigh-ins and these also measure my percentage body fat so I’ve got a reasonable idea of where I’m at.

What the InBody report showed confirmed what I knew. While my arms and legs are pretty lean, I could stand to lose some fat from my abdomen. This has always been a challenging area for me.

All of the other measures the InBody delivered were either within or better than the healthy ranges they suggest.

But what else is there?

Body composition is one thing but what about what’s flowing through all those veins, arteries and capillaries?

Blood samples

Dr Gil Blander, the founder and Chief Scientific Officer for InsideTracker followed me on Twitter after a recent story so I thought I’d take a look at what they offer.

Their promise is to “discover how healthy you are on the inside” through blood testing.

For US$49, InsideTracker provides a DIY testing service. Basically, you order a blood test from your doctor, enter the data into their system and InsideTracker will generate the analysis and nutrition, lifestyle, and exercise recommendations.

If you spring for US$299 (it’s only US$109 f you’re in the United States) you get a kit that lets you extract a few drops of blood that you mail off so the InsideTracker folks can do the analysis.

But it’s all in the genetics

dna-strands-iconOther companies, like FitnessGenes or PathwayFit, let you send in a small amount of saliva for genetic analysis.

I’ve heard a bunch of people say things like “I can lose weight” or “I can’t get more muscular”, putting the blame on the gene pool lottery. And while genetics might impose some limits on you – there’s no training regime I know of that will make you taller – the reality is the way you look is a product of both environment and genetics.

In other words, what you do and how you live has a massive bearing on your health and well-being.

All of these tests cost plenty of money – you won’t get any change from AU$300 and many of the tests are closer to AU$500.

Is it all worth it?

I’m a bit of data junkie and, if money was no object, I’d spring for blood and DNA analysis. After all, I’d love to find some hidden shortcut to healthier living that didn’t require me to work harder or think carefully about my food choices (or fight my addiction to chocolate and ice cream).

An interesting article at Men’s Journal, Test Your Blood, Get Fitter?, points out some of the benefits of a data driven approach.

Shawn Arent, director of the Rutgers Human Performance Laboratory, says:

But the biggest benefit of testing, he says, was that the players finally began to heed the health advice he’d been doling out for years — sleep more, eat vegetables, take your vitamins. “Put the numbers in front of them, and all of a sudden they changed,”.

In other words – there’s plenty of good advice out there on what to do. And if it takes a blood test or genetic analysis to heed that advice then go for it. But perhaps it’s not critical.

The reality is, for most of us, the process of finding the right combination of exercise and diet so we can be healthy and stroke our competitive egos, is a constant process of trial, error and refinement.

However, if you’re competing and constantly looking for an edge – whether that’s as a body builder, runner, power lifter or some other sporting endeavour – then data from genetic and blood tests could help find that extra 1% that separates first place getters from those that don’t make a final.

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