Functional Medicine for Sports Performance Optimization

Interested in how Functional Medicine can improve sports performance? In this article Dr. Slater talks about why this is something she is passionate about! 

My interest in functional medicine for sports performance optimization stems from the fact that I’ve been an athlete my whole life. In my younger years I did gymnastics and competitive swimming. Later on, in high school I played tennis which I was then able to continue on a collegiate level. My husband also comes from a very athletic family, with some playing on a professional level. My kids play travel hockey and soccer. So, you can say that sports are an integral part of my life.

Advanced Functional Testing 

Nutrition is particularly important for athletes due to the stress and high energy demands they put on their bodies. There are many basic and more advanced (functional) tests that we can check on our athletes. 

For basic lab testing, both thyroid and iron stores testing are part of our standard new patient lab panel at Root.  Over exercising combined with low calorie intake in athletes can lead to decrease thyroid function by increased conversion of T4 thyroid hormone to the storage form of thyroid hormone- reverse T3 (rT3). rT3 is the inactive form of thyroid hormone.  It is produced in times of stress and leads to slowing down of our metabolism.

Iron deficiency is another common deficiency especially in endurance athletes. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to muscles and other tissues. Low iron or low ferritin (a measure of iron storage) can manifest as decreased oxygen delivery to tissues, fatigue during exercise and increased risk for injury. 

There are also many advanced (functional) lab tests we can do for athletes:
  • Full Micronutrient analysis includes everything from antioxidants to vitamins and minerals as well as fatty acids and amino acids. This can give athletes very valuable information as to what foods they should be concentrating on as well as possible supplement needs for their particular energy requirements.
  • Gut health and microbiome testing is another big area we can evaluate. We are not only what we eat, but we are what we can digest and absorb. So, if our gastrointestinal system is off balance due to, for example, low digestive enzymes or bacterial imbalances, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, then we will not be able to break down and absorb food properly. This can lead to various nutrient deficiencies and issues with energy production/athletic performance. 
  • Cortisol Measurements: We can measure salivary cortisol levels at 6 points throughout the day to determine if you have a proper circadian hormonal pattern. Normally your cortisol should be highest in the morning and then gradually drop throughout the day, with its lowest level being right before bedtime. This allows you to have energy throughout the day and the lower levels at nighttime allow you to relax and fall asleep. In the initial stages of high intensity training your cortisol can be high- this is your bodies normal response to stress. But over time, if you are overtraining, your adrenal glands can grow weaker, which can eventually lead to a condition called adrenal fatigue. In adrenal fatigue you can have depressed cortisol levels in the morning and throughout the day, leading to low energy.
I like to take a personalized approach with all my athletes and after listening to their full story, order appropriate testing and customize their nutrition plan to their individual needs.

Dr. Slater helps athletes optimize their performance and health in our Get to the Root program.