How do you measure your success? Is it your weight? How much you can rep? Or through the frequency of your personal bests?
Whatever your method, there are new ways to measure your success in the gym and in determining your health goals.
What Biomarkers Should Every Guy Gym-goer Test?
Let’s start with outlining what a biomarker is before we tell you why its important to test them.
Biomarkers are a shortened phrase for biological markers. Biomarkers are defined as “objective indications of a medical state observed from outside the patient which can be measured accurately and reproducibly.”
Examples of biomarkers include your pulse, your blood pressure, blood, urine, stool, cell, and saliva samples.
Biomarkers are objective, quantifiable and numerical measurements that we can observe to understand more about our health, including how we feel both physically and emotionally.
Whether you’re an athlete, regular gym goer or someone who passively enjoys exercise, there is a number of key biomarkers that you need to know more about if you want to hit your goals.
It’s important to outline what biomarkers can and can’t do before we dive into what they are, what they do and whether you should specifically be testing them.
Let’s start with what biomarkers can do.
- Offer you more insight into your overall health and fitness
- Diagnose certain medical conditions
- Be used in drug-testing models
- Explain underlying day to day conditions
- Achieve all clinical endpoints, for example knowing that you have high cholesterol will not make you lose weight, making a decision to make lifestyle alterations will.
- Ensure that you will overcome a medical condition, what you see in your results may require treatment.
Next, we are going to bring you through the biomarkers that every male gym goer should be testing.
- What Is Testosterone?
- What Does Testosterone Do?
- Should You Take A Testosterone Test?
- What Is Cortisol?
- What Does Cortisol Do?
- Should You Take A Cortisol Test?
- What Is C-reactive Protein?
- What Does C-reactive Protein Do?
- Should You Take A C-reactive Protein Test?
- What Is Cholesterol?
- What Does Cholesterol Do?
- Should You Take A Cholesterol Test?
- What Are Urea, Creatinine and eGFR?
- What Do Urea, Creatinine and eGFR Do?
- Should You Take A Kidney Function Test?
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in males. Testosterone plays a part in all aspects of your physical and emotional development. For your everyday gym goer, low testosterone can have a mildly negative impact on recovery from training and a big impact on your quality of life, so it’s good to know your levels.
LetsGetChecked Endocrinologist and Professor of Medicine, Dr. Marc-Andre Cornier says: “Exercise is not going to boost your levels super high. Testosterone and growth hormones may be increased by some degree by exercise but also by longer term exercise interventions.”
Testosterone is responsible for the regulation of primary and secondary sexual characteristics.
Primary sex characteristics are those that a person is born with, including our genitalia.
Secondary sex characteristics are characteristics that develop later in life, most significantly, during puberty. Testosterone stimulates the development of secondary sex characteristics.
In men, these include but are not limited to:
- The development of the Adam’s apple
- The “breaking of” or deepening of the voice
- The broadening of the shoulders and chest
- The growth of hair on the face and body
- The enlargement of the penis and testes
Testosterone is produced in the testes and the adrenal glands in men .
Different hormones can be transformed into testosterone and vice versa by enzymes. For example, testosterone which lives in fat cells may be transformed to estrogen by the enzyme aromatase. This means if you gain a significant amount of weight, testosterone levels may dip.
What Does Testosterone Do?
There are many studies out there that have shown that low testosterone may equate to low moods, anxiety and depression. Conversely, these studies have shown that optimal testosterone acts as an anxiolytic antidepressant that improves spatial awareness.
Testosterone affects your muscles' ability to build and grow. Without sufficient testosterone, you may fall into the process of “muscle wasting”. Muscle cells have androgen receptors attached to them which use testosterone to build and fuse muscle fibers.
Low testosterone increases the likelihood of gaining weight. Aromatase is an enzyme that is found in fat cells, it stimulates the conversion of testosterone in fatty tissues to estrogen, if you already have low testosterone, there is an increased likelihood of having a higher volume of estrogen in the blood which is responsible for higher body fat.
Testosterone supports red blood cells, which are necessary for carrying oxygen around the body. Red blood cells are transported throughout the body providing muscles and organs with the necessary oxygen to help you perform at your best.
Experimental data illustrates that androgens influence bones directly and indirectly to slow the process of osteoclasts as men age. Testosterone alongside estrogen plays a part in slowing bone degeneration of bones.
Your testosterone/estrogen balance determines the texture and thickness of your skin. An overproduction or imbalance of testosterone can lead to acne-prone skin. Studies have shown that those who suffer from acne have higher rates of testosterone and 5A-dihydrotestosterone in their skin than healthy individuals who do not.
Sufficient testosterone is required for the growth of both the penis and testes. Testosterone supports the final developing stages of mature sperm, also known as spermatozoa.Testosterone plays a role in your libido and your erectile function as it plays a role in the growth of tissues which line the penis and are activated during sexual arousal.
Should You Take A Testosterone Test?
Despite numerous outlets claiming that resistance training will boost your testosterone, there are currently no studies using a large enough sample size to prove this to be true. It might be a helpful comparison to draw in thinking about what would happen if you missed the gym for one month. In this instance your testosterone volumes will not become deficient.
In the same way, going to the gym five days a week for resistance training sessions will not significantly cause your testosterone levels to spike. Think about what exercise does for your overall health.
Dr. Cornier adds: “Weight lifting and resistance training may have a stronger effect than cardiovascular exercise. At the end of the day, exercise is good so we promote it to people. That’s not why I tell my patients to exercise, I tell them to exercise because it’s good for their overall health.
You should consider taking a test if you experience the following risk factors:
- You have or have had prostate cancer
- You are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- You suffer from Klinefelter syndrome
- You suffer from prediabetes,type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- You suffer from hemochromatosis or iron deficiency anemia
- You have a pituitary gland disorder
- You are overweight or obese
- You suffer from chronic stress
- You take anabolic steroids or protein powders
- You have a family history of hormonal imbalances
- You have an over or underactive thyroid
- You suffer from kidney or liver disease
- You have or have previously suffered from anorexia nervosa
You should test your testosterone test if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- You are experiencing mood swings or low mood
- You have a lower sex drive than usual
- You have erectile dysfunction
- You are tired all the time
- You are experiencing hair loss
- You have aches and pains in your joints, especially after working out
- You have lost muscle mass or definition
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone and is released by the adrenal gland in response to stress or low blood glucose. If you are exercising intensively, it may cause your body to go into a feedback loop of over-producing cortisol which is known as your stress hormone.
Nutritional Therapist Angelique Panagos says “Over-exercising can lead to cortisol depletion leaving us in a chronically stressed state.”
Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” Stress is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a feeling of being overwhelmed, worried or run-down.” The factors that cause stress are known as stressors. Stressors can be external factors such as your family, friends and finances or internal factors such as a genetic predisposition to depressive and anxious states. When the body perceives stressors, it releases cortisol which causes the body to go into fight or flight mode.
Cortisol is responsible for:
- Controlling the body’s blood sugar levels
- Regulating metabolism
- Acting as an anti-inflammatory
- Influencing memory formation
- Controlling salt and water balance
- Influencing blood pressure
- Foetal development
What Does Cortisol Do?
Short term, during stressful circumstances, cortisol is released and this will affect the brain by heightening your spatial awareness and decision making skills. Long term, if you are chronically stressed or if there is an overload of cortisol being released by the body, this will affect the creation of new memories and access to memories past.
Cortisol causes your body to go into defence mode and this includes all of your muscles. If your body is constantly releasing cortisol, it means that your body is in a constant state of defense mode. This can trigger the onset of other symptoms including stress headaches, migraines and bodily aches and pains which can make it harder to work out when recovery time is prolonged by the consequences of cortisol.
When cortisol spikes, it releases insulin which causes your blood sugar to drop. Lower blood sugar can make you crave sugary or fatty foods to build your stores of glucose back up. The overproduction of cortisol may also increase your appetite, give you the urge to comfort eat or overeat. Over exercising leads to the overproduction of cortisol and feeling overwhelmed with stress can lead to overeating so knowing your baseline cortisol can be helpful in understanding the steps you need to take for successful weight management.
Short term, cortisol may cause your heart rate to increase. In times of acute stress, your body may release cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which act as messengers within the body. The heart pumps more blood to the areas of your body that are under stress and following this period of stress, the body returns to homeostasis, which is the word used to define your body’s normal state. Longer term, in states of chronic stress, you are more likely to experience hypertension, heart attack and stroke. If your body is consistently producing cortisol, you are also more likely to retain and have higher cholesterol.
Cortisol is an important hormone that is used to regulate your immune system and reduce inflammation. If you are chronically stressed, you are more likely to be under the weather more regularly, face chronic fatigue, depression and metabolic disorders including diabetes and obesity.
When the body goes into overdrive producing cortisol, it can cause every organ to go into overdrive, including your skin. Often the skin will produce more sebum than is normal which will cause breakouts and in some cases, chronic acne.
Should You Take A Cortisol Test?
You should consider taking a test if you experience the following risk factors:
- You constantly feel run down
- You take or have been taking testosterone supplements
- You are bodybuilding competitively
- You live with a condition called Cushing syndrome
- You live with a condition called Addison's disease
You should take the test if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Severe fatigue
- Cognitive difficulties
- Bone loss and weakness
- High blood pressure
- Decreased libido
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Erectile dysfunction
- Irregular periods
- Low blood sugar
- Diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
What Is C-Reactive Protein (CRP)?
CRP is a plasma protein that rises in the blood in response to other physiological conditions. It is also known as an “acute-phase” protein.
Inflammation is your body’s defense against threatening stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants or pathogens. Inflammation plays an important role in understanding weight management and it has been shown that weight loss has been proven to reduce inflammation in the body.
CRP levels may be used to identify deterioration or damage in the body.
CRP is a protein that circulates in your blood. CRP is produced and expelled by the liver. It is often released by fat cells in response to stimuli, that the body views as an invader.
Exercise produces a short-term, inflammatory response. Habitual and long term exercise produces an anti-inflammatory response. This anti-inflammatory response may contribute to a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and the production of “bad cholesterol” also known as LDL cholesterol.
While CRP is a very non-specific biomarker, it is useful to measure to gain overall insight into your health. It is also a good measure of your progress if you usually lead a sedentary lifestyle but are incorporating more exercise into your lifestyle.
Do you feel like you’re not performing at the gym? Or would you like to measure something other than your body weight, as you track your progress? CRP is often connected to an infection you are not aware of and might explain why you are feeling like something is just “not quite right.”
What Does C-reactive Protein (CRP) Do?
C-reactive Protein is not a biomarker that affects any particular part of the body, as it is produced in the blood in response to what the body views as a “threat.” More specifically, CRP levels may increase in relation to other physical conditions or traumas.
This might include:
- Heart attack
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Burns to the skin
- Chronic inflammatory diseases including lupus, vasculitis, or rheumatoid arthritis
- Infections including pneumonia or tuberculosis
- Certain cancers
For a standard CRP test, a normal reading is less than 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L). A test result showing a CRP level greater than 10 mg/L is a sign of serious infection, trauma or chronic disease, which likely will require further testing to determine the cause. For patients who have had cardiovascular issues in the past, it is recommended that they co-test with a cholesterol test to gain a better understanding of the root cause of inflammation in the body.
CRP risk levels aren't a definitive measure of your risk because the ideal indicator of high CRP isn't clearly defined. Also, because a person's CRP levels vary over time, it's recommended that the average of two tests, ideally taken two weeks apart, be used to determine coronary artery disease risk.
Should You Take A C-reactive Protein Test?
You should consider taking a test if you experience the following risk factors:
There are no physical symptoms associated with an elevated C-reactive protein level. High CRP levels don't directly indicate any one specific cause for the spike. The test should be taken as a risk assessment for underlying inflammatory diseases.
The American Heart Association also recommended that those who have a 5-10% chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years should take the test. The above statistic is often deciphered through a global risk assessment based on risk factors such as your family history, lifestyle choices and current health status.
Those who have had a heart attack previously are recommended to take a CRP test to better know their chance of a second event following treatment for the first one.
Cholesterol is as a waxy like substance found in the cells of your body. Cholesterol is also known as a lipid. The volume of fats we consume in our daily diets determine our cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is produced in the liver and is found in every cell, it may also be taken into the body by consuming certain foods. As cholesterol is a waxy-oil based substance, and blood is water based, it does not mix and mingle within the blood, instead it is circulated throughout the body by lipoproteins.
There are two types of lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are known as "good" and "bad" fats.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
HDL, is also known as “good fat” because it carries excess cholesterol to the liver for processing. Excess cholesterol is then expelled from the body as waste.
Foods that are rich in HDL include avocados, olive oil, fish and nuts.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL is also known as “bad fat” because it transports cholesterol to sensitive parts of the body including arteries, it can dump cholesterol in the arteries which can cause them to become hard and narrow.
Foods that are rich in LDL include red meat, lard and dairy products including, cream, butter and cheese.
What Does Dietary Fat Do?
It is essential in your body to aid in making hormones, vitamin D synthesis and digestion. Cholesterol is produced in the liver and is found in every cell, it may also be taken into the body by consuming certain foods.
Fats Are A Source Of Energy:
According to Suzanne Girard Eberle, we have enough fat stored in our muscles fibers and fat cells to supply 100,000 calories which would potentially fuel over 100 hours of marathon running. Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy and provides twice as much potential energy as carbohydrates and protein. While carbohydrates and protein provide the body with slow release energy, the body turns to stored fats when we exercise for energy by turning triglycerides in adipose or fat tissues into fatty acids.
Fats Regulate Vitamin Absorption:
Vitamins are broken into two categories which include:
- Water-soluble vitamins (include vitamin C and B vitamins)
- Fat-soluble vitamins ( include vitamins A, D, E and K)
Healthy fats help the body to absorb nutrients from food inthe form of vitamins and minerals. In order to get the full suite of functions from vitamins A, D, E and K, your diet needs to contain enough healthy fats to carry these vitamins throughout your body. Research shows that the best vitamin absorption takes place on a diet of low to moderate healthy fat intake (around 15-30 grams) per day.
Fats Regulate Insulation & Temperature Regulation:
Fat ensures that you can regulate and maintain your core body temperature. The body has different types of fats and they are stored in adipose tissue. Brown adipose tissue dissipates energy by producing heat to maintain body temperature. “Beige adipocytes” are also said to generate heat on a lesser level than brown adipose tissue in a process called “browning.” Studies also refer to our metabolic rate when it comes to understanding how fat cells maintain a regular body temperature.
Should You Take A Cholesterol Test?
You should consider taking a test if you experience the following risk factors:
- You are overweight or obese.
- You drink alcohol and smoke frequently.
- You lead a sedentary lifestyle.
- You have a strong family history of heart disease.
- You have a first-degree relative who has suffered a heart attack, a stroke or has undergone bypass surgery.
- You suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, an underactive thyroid gland.
There are no visible symptoms of high cholesterol which is why it is so important to get tested regularly.
Jeremy Bock says that testing cholesterol levels should be completed as regularly as you would get your blood pressure tested at an annual full body check up.
Even if you work out religiously and follow a healthy diet, there is still a chance that you will live with high cholesterol. The only way to know is to get tested.
Kidney Function (Urea, Creatinine and eGFR)
What Is Urea, Creatinine and eGFR?
Your kidneys are responsible for filtering your blood and removing waste products through your urine. They also manage water retention and control ion concentrations and the acid balance in your blood.
Urea is a waste product formed from the breakdown of proteins and is passed out in your urine. A high level of urea ('uremia') indicates that the kidneys may not function optimally or that you are dehydrated.
Creatinine is a waste product made by your muscles and dietary protein. Creatinine passes into the bloodstream and is usually passed out in urine. A high blood level of creatinine indicates that the kidneys may not be working properly.
eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate)
eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) is a calculation which determines how well your kidneys are filtering blood.
What Do Urea, Creatinine and eGFR Do?
Urea plays a significant role in the metabolism. The metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur in living organisms to maintain life. Urea works through it's role of carrying waste from the body through urination, as well as the reabsorption of water in the kidneys.
Staying hydrated during workouts is essential for kidney function. When we work out, we lose water and electrolytes through sweat. Staying hydrated ensures that our kidneys can do their job through transporting waste products in and out of the cells and to avoid the build up of urea nitrogen in the blood. Urea nitrogen is a byproduct of metabolic function.
Creatinine is a waste product that comes from normal wear and tear on muscles. Generally speaking, moderate exercise will not affect our creatinine levels. As you increase your level of exercise, your creatinine levels may rise, especially for those who have a eat a large volume of meat in their everyday diets.
Low blood pressure and dehydration may cause damage to your kidneys, which would lead to a higher volume of creatinine in the blood. During exercise, it is important to replace fluids that are lost through sweating, after exercise, it is important to replenish your calorie stores.
One of the most accurate ways to know your kidney function is to look at your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Your GFR is a calculation that includes your volume of creatinine, age, gender, race and weight.
It is widley believed (and in some cases scientifically proven) that a higher protein intake can aid muscle and body composition. For those who are already living with kidney disease, a higher intake of protein can put more pressure on their kidneys. For those who have healthy kidneys, there is no evidence that a high protein diet can result in damage.
The only way to know if you are supplementing in an optimal way is to know your baseline kidney function biomarkers.
In sum: High protein intake has been shown to speed up kidney damage in people who have kidney disease. Higher protein diets don't negatively affect kidney function in healthy people.
Should You Take A Kidney Function Test?
Kidney Function Tests indicate how your kidneys are performing by measuring levels of urea, creatinine and eGFR. High levels of urea, creatinine and low eGPR can indicate acute or chronic kidney disease.
You should consider taking the test if:
- You have a high protein diet
- You have used or are using performance enhancing drugs
- You are taking anti-inflammatory medication
- You suffer from high blood pressure
- You suffer from diabetes
- You have suffered an acute injury
- You have persistent urinary tract infections
- You have a kidney disease or a family history of one
- You have kidney stones or a family history of them
You should consider taking the test if you are suffering from the following symptoms:
- Chronic fatigue
- Urinating less frequently or producing a reduced volume of urine
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Fluid retention
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
- Chest pain
Going To The Gym? Some Simple Things To Bear In Mind
Testing a range of biomarkers is the most in-depth way to understand your progress and ensure that you are achieving optimal results.
Consistency is key. We might think that the intensity of the work-out or what we eat is the most important, but it all starts with consistency.
A combination of cardio and weight-lifting exercises will offer the best results.
Always stay hydrated before, during and after a workout.
Never go more than one hour without food after an intense workout.
Find an exercise that you love and it will never feel like a chore.
If you have any pre-existing illnesses or you are not sure if a lifestyle change will improve your health, see your physician for further advice.
Always research your supplements and ask your physician for advice if you are unsure that they are safe, and avoid taking testosterone supplements unless a medical professional has advised you to.
Remember that working out should be something you do to supplement a healthy lifestyle. Want to gain more insight into your health? It might be time to start testing your biomarkers!
Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Approved by Dr. Dominic Rowley