Insight is a wonderful thing. It allows us the chance to look at something with real knowledge and perspective, gaining valuable information that can help make something easier to understand or aid in giving us the bigger, more long-term picture, and no one loves insight more than the fitness industry. In recent years ‘self-monitoring’ or wearables as they’ve come to be known as have boomed as an industry thanks to the general public wanting to know more about their bodies. How many steps, calories and miles they’ve done on a daily basis is now the circle of conversations in offices all over the country and even how well we’ve slept. And with smart watches, activity bands, straps and even rings, monitoring your body has never been easier, or so we’re told. Having been in the lucky position we are we’ve managed to test a lot of these products over the last couple of years and we can safely say there are huge variants in results from device to device. You might burn, say 1900 calories in a single day according to your FitBit, but then a Garmin Watch might say you’ve burnt only 1700 and your Whoop band says 2,093. Yes, it’s only a 200 calorie difference but those 200 calories make all the difference when it comes to losing weight, getting fitter or training for competition. We were lucky enough to be one of the first people in the UK to get our hands on a Whoop Strap when they were first released a few years ago by Will Ahmed and his team based out of Boston, and we’ve worn it everyday since. Why? Well, comparing it to other devices that we’ve worn at the same time – Apple Watch, Fitbit, Garmin Watches – the Whoop strap has always been the one most ‘on point’ when it comes to consistent, viable data that allows us to keep a consistent eye on our bodies. You might ask, ‘well how do you know the Whoop strap is right and the others are wrong?’. Well, according to a scientific study conducted in 2020, Whoop straps are the most scientifically reliable product on the wearables market today, so thats how. Part of Whoops draw is that it helps you monitor your body and the internal goings on than happen every second of every day, instead of steps which mean literally nothing in life. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) for instance is literally the variance in time between the beats of your heart. So, if your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, it’s not actually beating once every second. Within that minute there may be 0.9 seconds between two beats, for example, and 1.15 seconds between two others. The greater this variability is, the more “ready” your body is to execute at a high level. Whoop have a full blog post helping you deep dive into HRV to understand it better. Whoop also measures other things such as Sleep Efficiency, Respiratory Rate, Calories Burned, Resting Heart Rate, and also gives you a daily ‘Strain Score’ (you can never achieve more than a score of 22) and ‘Recovery Score’ to help put all that data into easy to understand percentages. You then get weekly & monthly data sheets that give you a full breakdown of everything over the month. It’s fascinating.
But since we started wearing our Whoop bands however, we’ve been striving to learn more about whats happening internally in our bodies, our editor especially as he’s currently looking to do his first Triathlon next year, wanted an understanding of just how ready his body was to take on that kind of challenge. Why did we feel tired on Monday’s run? Why did I go light headed in that training session? Why was the pace off during my track session? And yes these are training scenarios but also this occurs day to day in our everyday lives too, something isn’t sitting quite right or we don’t ‘feel ourselves’, we will all too often just shrug it off until the problem occurs again. We may go to the doctors explain our feeling and they’ll run a blood test which comes back ‘normal’, they’ll suggest the usual taking a break or “get some more vitamin D, C, and all the others vitamins you can get your hands on. We never truly solve the issue, we end up just simply ignoring it. That is, until now.
Forth Edge, the UK based health tech company, gives you insight into those blood tests with evidence-based biomarker profiling that combines scientific analysis with a blood sample collection kit, cutting-edge technology and personalised advice from a hand-picked team of sports-science experts. Founded by Sarah Bolt in 2016 Forth helps give people a better understanding of their body and areas which would benefit from
improvement through a range of home blood tests coupled with a digital health dashboard. Via clear scientific data tests cover general wellbeing, nutrition, and male and female hormone health. It’s easy, you go online and pick the areas you’d like to focus on – You can choose from Running, Cycling, Triathlon, Power, Crossfit And Female Hormone Mapping. Each of which has a male and female option, apart from the obvious – for us that was the brands ‘Triathlon Male’ testing kit which covers everything specific to the needs and demands of your body to compete in a Triathlon. Once you’ve ordered – you also pick the frequency of follow up tests, we have every 4 months – your user friendly kit arrives through the post a couple of days later. In there are full instructions on how to use the kit as well as the two miniature test tubes, finger pricks and all the other necessary products to carry out the test. For those of you who are medically trained or have a coaching staff that is, there is the option for a full phlebotomy kit, home visit or clinic visit. Once you’ve taken the test simply seal it up and send it back in a pre-printed bag. If you download the handy Fourth Edge app or login to their website you’ll get the results of your tests 24-48 hours later with a full breakdown of each biomarker and a small explanation of what they mean. The medical team at Forth is lead by the world-renowned Dr.Nicola Keay, a Member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP), she gained extensive clinical and research experience in Endocrinology and Sport/Dance and Exercise Medicine involving elite athletes, professional ballet dancers and young aspiring athletes. As a Research Fellow at St Thomas’ Hospital Dr.Nicky was part of the international medical team working to develop a test to detect athletes doping with growth hormone, supported by the International Olympic Committee. That, along with her other research studies she’s investigated the effects of training and nutrition on the Endocrine system, body composition and bone mineral density and these various research projects led to a number of publications and awards. With medical scholarships her Sport/Dance and Exercise Medicine attachments have included North Sydney Sports Medicine Centre, Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre Melbourne, Australian Institute of Sport, Faculty of Medicine, Discipline Human Physiology, University Newcastle NSW and Department of Paediatrics, Division of Growth and Reproduction, University of Geneva. So as we said, it’s pretty legit.
On the results front we’re happy to say all ours were within the normal range, however some of our results such as Active B12, which has an important role to play in the production of red blood cells and nerve health, were normal but leaning towards the ‘low’ range. This is a great indicator that we need to watch these levels and try and push them more in the normal direction over the next 4 months, monitoring the effect it has on our training and overall mood. Other biomarkers for this test include:
Cortisol – A steroid hormone naturally produced by the body in times of stress and can be effect by over-training, diet, trauma and more and will raise blood pressure, blood sugar levels, increase muscle weakness and weight gain. Low levels can lead to fatigue, low blood pressure, weight loss and muscle weakness.
Creatine Kinase – (CK) is an enzyme found mainly in the brain, skeletal muscles and heart. It has an important role to play in energy production and muscle contraction. When muscles are damaged CK leaks into the blood stream. Levels can therefore become raised due to injury or stress to muscle tissue particularly after exercise but should return to normal after a recovery period.
Creatinine – is a waste product which is produced from creatine, a compound which has a major role in the production of energy needed for muscle contraction. The level of creatine produced will vary according to body size and muscle mass. Creatinine is removed from the body by the kidneys and released in urine. The levels of creatinine in blood is therefore a good indication of kidney function.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP) – measures the amount of inflammation in your body. High levels are associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke. However, as CRP is a marker for general inflammation, it cannot identify the source of inflammation. Levels may also be raised due to a number of reasons including recent infections (especially bacterial), intense bursts of exercise or conditions such as arthritis. As CRP levels can fluctuate significantly, regular testing is recommended to establish a trend.
eGFR – is used as an indication of how well your kidneys are functioning. Testing GFR directly is complicated, levels are therefore estimated based on your creatinine levels. Results can be influenced by a number of factors including muscle mass and weight. Individuals with high muscle mass will have higher levels which may be outside the normal range, and vise versa for individuals with low muscle mass. Creatinine and eGFR levels will rise immediately following strenuous exercise but should then return to baseline following recovery.
Ferritin – The amount of ferritin in the blood reflects the total level of iron stored within your body. Ferritin levels can be raised due to inflammation. Very high levels of ferritin indicate a large build up of iron in the body which can be due to a hereditary condition called haemochromatosis. Low ferritin levels are often caused by iron deficiency which can lead to anaemia and the production of small red blood cells. The best source of iron comes from red meat which ideally should be eaten at least once a week. For those following a vegetarian or vegan diet good plant sources include green leafy vegetables, seeds, beans and dried fruit.
Haematocrit (HCT) – HCT test measures the volume of space in your blood which is made up of red blood cells. Low levels can suggest anaemia which means that an insufficient supply of oxygen is reaching your tissues resulting in a loss of energy. The main nutrient for all red blood cells is iron. As the best source of iron is red meat, those following a vegetarian or vegan diet may find it harder to absorb adequate quantities.
Haemoglobin – Is a protein found in blood. Its role is to carry oxygen to cells throughout the body and return carbon dioxide back to the lungs. A low level can indicate anaemia and may result in reduced energy. Anaemia has many causes including nutritional deficiency. By improving your haemoglobin you can improve your organ and tissue functions and increase your overall energy levels. High haemoglobin levels are indicative of too many red cells which could be due to a number of conditions.
Luteinising hormone – LH plays a key role in the human reproductive system. In men LH aids the production of testosterone to support sperm production, whilst in women it plays a key role in ovulation. High or low levels of luteinising hormone are associated with problems with fertility and irregular periods. As women enter the menopause levels of LH will naturally rise, whilst levels in adult males tend to stay relatively constant throughout their lives.
Prolactin – is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. Slight increases can occur as part of a stress reaction. However, if your level is constantly high this can cause suppression of other pituitary hormones such as FSH and LH. High levels are expected during breast feeding as main role of prolactin is to produce milk.
Red blood cells – are an important transporter of oxygen, taking it from the lungs to cells around the body. By keeping your RBC within the normal range you can ensure your body receives sufficient quantities of oxygen. Low RBC is often an indication of anaemia which can be due to a number or causes including nutrition deficiency e.g. low iron, folate or B12.
Testosterone – plays an important role throughout the body, affecting the brain, bone and muscle mass, fat distribution, the vascular system, energy levels, sexual functioning and fertility. Testosterone in men is particularly beneficial in sports which require strength or power and can also help to support bone health and energy levels. However, excessively high levels can be a risk to health. Testosterone levels in men will naturally decline with age. High levels in women is associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
Thyroid Stimulated Hormone – TSH plays an important role in regulating the production of hormones by the thyroid gland. High levels of TSH can indicate an under-active thyroid which can lead to fatigue and weight gain, whilst low levels are often associated with an overactive thyroid which can cause mood swings and difficulty in sleeping. Foods which contain the B vitamin group can play a large role in ensuring optimal thyroid function.
Thyroxine (T4) – Is used to check that the thyroid is performing properly. Thyroid hormones, such as thyroxine have a role to play in a wide range of the body’s functions including the maintenance of healthy bones and muscle control. An overactive thyroid can cause too much thyroxine to be released into the bloodstream, whilst an under-active thyroid can lead to too little thyroxine being produced. Both conditions can lead to weight gain and fatigue as well as our symptoms.
Triiodothyronine (T3) – Can indicate if the thyroid is performing properly. Triiodothyronine is the active form of Thyroxine (T4) and, as a thyroid hormone, plays an important role in many of the body’s functions including helping to regulate the body’s metabolism and muscle control. High levels of triiodothyronine may indicate an overactive thyroid the symptoms of which include fatigue, weight loss, irritability and irregular menstrual cycles. Low levels may indicate an under-active thyroid which can cause fatigue, weight gain and stiffness in muscles.
Urea – Both urea and creatinine are good indicators of whether the kidneys are working properly. Urea is a waste product which is formed in the liver when protein is metabolised. It is released by the liver into the bloodstream and carried to the kidneys where it is expelled within urine. If the kidneys are not performing correctly the level of urea in the blood will rise. Urea can also rise 2-3 days after intense exercise due to muscle breakdown and if your body is dehydrated.
White blood cell count – WBC is a count of the actual number of white blood cells per volume of blood. Your white blood cells make up your immune system and help to protect the body against illness and disease. Low levels indicate a weakness in the immune system which can be associated with a number of conditions. Higher levels are common when your body is trying to fight off an illness or during extreme physical stress either through injury, emotional stress or excessive exercise.
Hopefully with those explanations things will seem a little easier to understand and thanks to Forth Edges platform each result has a small explanation to remind you. Having access to these results allows us an insight into our bodies like never before, helping us to manipulate each area to improve our performance, better our health and help the body in staying balanced. Seem like a little over the top? Well when you think about the money and time we spend listening to a little watches that count how many steps you do each day (it actually follows arm movement, not steps), it means nothing in the bigger scheme of things if we’re looking for things that help us be healthier and have a better understanding of our bodies. All those little watches do is make us feel better about ourselves. So instead of sticking your head in the sand and pretending everything is ok, find out for certain. Take control of your body. By making a small investment into Forth it will allow you to better understand your body in a way that you’ve never been able to before and ultimately help you live a healthier and longer life.
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