National Team Blood Chemistry Testing Program


By Dan McCarthy//National High Performance Consultant

The USA Swimming National Team participates in a blood chemistry program to help the athletes gain insight into their bodies’ response to training. The program has also led to discoveries about their nutrition and their health in general. Initially, the athletes use the clinical reference range to identify normal and abnormal results. After a number of tests, enough information exists to create an athlete-specific range in addition to the clinical reference points.

Here are some of the tests they run:

Complete Metabolic Panel
Among many results, the Complete Metabolic Panel includes the levels of each electrolyte, kidney and liver function markers, and the Glucose level of the blood.

Lipid Panel
A Lipid Panel is taken once a year to determine an athlete’s cholesterol breakdown and triglyceride level.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)
The CBC includes the main components of Red Blood Cell condition, Hemoglobin and Hematocrit; as well as a breakdown of the White Blood Cells and the health of the body’s immune system.

Ferritin is the storage form of Iron in the body used to make new red blood cells. This is the best test for detecting anemia.

Iron Transport: Iron (Total), Total Iron Blood Count, % Saturation
In conjunction with the Ferritin test, the Iron Transport test helps identify how an athlete’s system is responding to external factors, like their training, diet and medication.

LDH is an enzyme that can becomes elevated during intense anaerobic training as a result of the damage done to the skeletal muscle cells.

Vitamin D
Recent research has shown that Vitamin D is not just important for bone health, but also in supporting the immune system and fighting inflammation. The main source of Vitamin D is the sun, which is a concern for athletes who train indoors, or don’t get much exposure during the winter months.

CK Total
This enzyme is elevated when skeletal muscle is exposed to trauma, like the micro-tears which occur during intense training.

Cortisol Total
The stress hormone, Cortisol, is elevated during periods of high physical and high psychological stress.

Urinalysis (dipstick only)
One of the most overlooked tests. It is used to identify dehydration at the time of testing via the Urine Specific Gravity (USG) result. It is very useful in conjunction with the CBC test to determine if the athlete’s Hematocrit and Hemoglobin results were artificially inflated because of dehydration.

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