If your serious about bodybuilding, getting bigger and improving your performance you are probably spending a lot of money on food, supplements, gym memberships and possible other performance enhancing drugs, BUT what about testing your hormones and blood chemistry?
While there is no doubt that food and supplements can enhance your performance (and some supplements are simple a waste of money!). It does not matter what you do if your hormones are out of balance, or your blood chemistry is showing inflammation, liver problems or insulin resistance, which is why blood testing for bodybuilders is so important.
Imagine spending a lot of money on a high performance car, you put in the best quality fuel, deck it out with the latest sound system but if you don’t get it regularly serviced it is not going to run smoothly, and soon may have major engine problems that cost a lot of money to fix.
Noteworthy: If you are a bodybuilder or athlete then your body is like a high performance car, it is going to be different to the average 4 cylinder car driving around the streets and is going to have different needs. Getting a yearly blood test to check to see if your hormones and blood chemistry levels are optimal is a bit like getting your car thoroughly checked over by a mechanic on a regular basis.
For many bodybuilders getting a thorough blood test 1-2 times a year should be enough to keep track of your hormones and other blood chemistry markers, but if you take steroid hormones I would recommend testing 3-4 times a year.
Steroid hormones can have many performance enhancing benefits but they can have a number of negative consequences, regular blood testing can help to identify these problems early and minimize any side effects quickly.
Steroid users in particular should check their hormones like testosterone, estrogen, DHEA, LH and FSH on a regular basis to ensure they don't suppress their own natural production of hormones, but it is very important to also check liver function, kidney function, insulin markers, cortisol and inflammation markers to make sure that they are not causing serious health issues for you.
Everybody is different which means that different diets, supplements and performance enhancing drugs are going to affect people differently, just because you read online about the amazing results of a particular product, it does not mean that it is going to be safe for everyone to take.
Regular blood testing is going to be your safety check to assess that what you are doing is not only safe for your body but giving you the best performance enhancing results.
If you just want to take a deep dive into your sex hormone and adrenal hormone levels then I recommend doing the DUTCH hormone test.
This is perfect if you don't like needles as it only requires a sample of urine - this also makes the DUTCH hormone test convenient as you can do it at home and don't have to go to a pathology lab.
1. Measures the hormone metabolites to help understand how you are metabolizing hormones.
2. Assesses 5a-DHT which is the more androgenic version of testosterone, particularly important if you experience hair loss.
3. The DUTCH test is the best way to measure the adrenal hormones, you take 4-5 samples throughout the day to also assess the rhythm of your cortisol levels.
A lot of people have tried going to their doctor with the hope of getting their hormones and essential blood markers tested, only to be disappointed when the doctor either refuses, or when the results come back you realize that half the markers have been left off and it was a waste of time.
It is not the doctors fault as they are limited by medicare as to what they can actually test for, and they are usually only inclined to do tests on people who are sick, not bodybuilders wanting to optimise their performance.
A doctor is not the best qualified person to be interpreting the results of a bodybuilder or athlete who is looking for optimal performance, as doctor’s are only looking to see if you fall into the reference range, which is very broad and only making sure you are not sick.
Each test comes with a report showing you your results and if they fall into the optimal range (not the reference range which is for sick people), and how you can improve your results through diet and nutrition. Test packages can be customized so that you get exactly what you want, without the hassle of trying to get it done through a doctor.
Hormones and your blood chemistry are quite complex and it is important not to assess one maker in isolation, depending on what other markers are out of balance will help to determine the best course of action for you. This is why it is important to get your levels assessed by somebody that not only knows blood chemistry and hormone interactions, but someone who also understands bodybuilders and athletes.
Here is a list of the recommended blood tests. A convenient way to get these tested is by using a company called Letsgetchecked.com and they offer at home test kits - use the code PLANET for 20% off
Luteinizing hormone (LH) and Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) are messenger hormones released by the pituitary gland to stimulate testosterone and sperm production in the gonads. It is impossible to have good testosterone and build muscle with low levels of LH and FSH. Low levels can occur if you are taking steroid hormones as the body down regulates it’s own production, if you are doing a cycle of steroids you want to wait until your LH levels normalize before starting the next cycle. High stress/ cortisol hormone and thyroid function can also suppress LH and FSH production.
Testosterone is the main sex hormone for men (it’s important for women too) and is responsible for the male characteristics. Clinically low levels will lead to low libido and infertility, but even a moderate deficiency in testosterone will affect muscle growth and your ability to recover from workout sessions.
Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) is a glycoprotein that binds to testosterone and estrogen helping to keep your levels balanced, it is used to help measure your free testosterone levels and high levels of SHBG will lead to low free testosterone and you will have a hard time building muscle. High estrogen can cause high levels of SHBG.
Estrogen is often seen as the evil fat producing hormone amongst bodybuilders and for good reason, excess estrogen levels can affect muscle growth, make it hard to cut body fat and have negative effects on mood. While estrogen is essential for both males and females it is rare that men will have an estrogen deficiency.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an adrenal hormone which is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen production, it is also beneficial for immune function, and along with cortisol is a good marker for healthy adrenal function.
Prolactin is another hormone which is mainly associated with women, but anabolic steroid use can lead to higher prolactin levels which can also lead to higher estrogen levels, and the negative side effects that come with this.
Cortisol is the number one stress hormone and you want to have it in the right balance. Too much cortisol from overtraining, stress, poor recovery or not enough calories will have a catabolic effect on your muscles, and a higher risk of injury. On the flip side too little cortisol will lead to fatigue, inflammation and you will have a harder time training.
Insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and Growth hormone are two hormones that the body produces (and drugs can stimulate) that promote muscle growth, but like many hormones in the body there is a happy medium. Too little of these hormones is going to make it difficult to make gains in strength and size, while excess amounts can promote insulin resistance and in a worse case scenario increase your cancer risk.
Thyroid hormones also need to be in just the right balance, too little and you will have problems with metabolism, weight loss and fatigue, but excess amounts can be catabolic to muscle and cause anxiety. This is a hormone that is poorly tested by most doctors, usually they only test TSH, but it is important to also test T4, T3 and reverse T3 to get a thorough understanding of your thyroid health.
Thyroid problems can be caused by stress (high cortisol), nutrient deficiencies, this is also another hormone to keep track of if your taking anabolic steroids.
Liver Function tests don’t actually measure how your body is detoxifying substances from the body, but they do measure liver enzymes which if elevated can be a sign of liver disease, or inflammation of the liver. Some of these enzymes like AST and ALT can be naturally high in bodybuilders and it is important to take into account other markers like GGT, ferritin, HsCRP and HbA1C to see if the liver is functioning optimally or not.
Kidney Function test measures the electrolytes and kidney markers like glomerular filtration rate and creatinine, there are a lot of misconceptions about high protein diets causing kidney problems, and bodybuilders are not at higher risk of kidney disease than the rest of the population, but it is an inexpensive test to do and could help to prevent future problems. The two biggest causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure.
High sensitive C-reactive protein (HsCRP) is an Inflammation marker, this can be caused by injury, overtraining or systemic inflammation. Inflammation is catabolic to the body and is going to affect muscle growth and recovery.
Iron studies measures your iron, transferrin, iron binding protein and ferritin which is your iron stores. Too little iron is going to affect training, lead to low energy levels and poor recovery, while too much iron which is more common in men is going to lead to inflammation and oxidative damage. High ferritin can cause liver damage, diabetes and heart disease, it is often genetic in its cause and needs to be monitored regularly if you have high levels.
Zinc is an important mineral and one that is commonly deficient in men. Zinc is important for testosterone production and keeping estrogen levels low as it is a natural aromatase inhibitor. Zinc is also important for thyroid function, digestion, immune function and skin. Too much zinc can suppress other minerals so testing to find out your needs is the best option.
Vitamin D is technically not a vitamin but a hormone, every cell in the body has a receptor for Vitamin D which indicates it is important for all functions in the body, as a precursor for hormones to immune function having the right levels of Vitamin D will improve your performance and recovery. Like most things more is not better and excess Vitamin D can have negative consequences so the best way to assess your ideal needs, and even if you do need to supplement is with a blood test.
Even if you look great on the outside it does not mean that you are going to be healthy on the inside, getting a detailed hormone and blood chemistry test will reveal a lot about your health.
Noteworthy: A comprehensive report and online consultation at Planet Naturopath will help you to understand how your body is functioning, and what steps you need to take to help improve your performance.
You can either get our Comprehensive Pathology Test, or click on the link below to schedule a short consultation to work out the best testing options for you.
If you just want a few markers test then using letsgetchecked.com is probably the most convenient option as they offer quality tests you can do at home - no need to visit doctors
Or if you just want to take a deep dive into your sex hormone levels and adrenal function I recommend the DUTCH hormone test
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen
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