Blood in the Water


BRed Blood Cellsy Dan McCarthy//High Performance Consultant

In this forum I have had the opportunity to write about the USA Swimming National Team blood chemistry program. In September 2012, The Danger of an Iron Deficiency was posted, and more recently (January 2013) an overview of the entire blood chemistry program was published. This past April, the impact of the blood chemistry program was presented to the coaches in attendance at the National Team Coaches Seminar in Colorado Springs.


In the months preceding the Olympic Trials an unprecedented number of National Team athletes completed blood tests, which gave us more data to analyze than we had in the past. The sample size is small, and the population is not very diverse (from a training standpoint), but we were able to see some similarities that were common enough to raise an eyebrow. Of the athletes who participated in the blood chemistry program:

  • 1 in 4 of our female athletes was considered iron deficient, or had low enough Ferritin values to cause concern
  • Nearly all of our athletes had lower Vitamin D values during the winter months, and athletes in the northern areas of the United States were far more likely to have less than optimal Vitamin D values all year long. Both findings were consistent with the Vitamin D research that has been published the last few years.

Because the blood chemistry panels are primarily used by the medical industry to detect abnormalities, our program, while not designed as a health & wellness protocol has helped our National Team athletes become aware of significant irregularities and seek appropriate medical guidance. Our panels have detected:

  • adrenal fatigue/burnout
  • serious streptococcus infections
  • thyroid disorders
  • red blood cell abnormalities

The National team blood chemistry program began as a service for our National Team athletes, but the results and trends are valuable to all of our athletes. I encourage all of our female athletes to have their Ferritin tested at least once a year, and all of our athletes have their Vitamin D tested annually as well.