If you've ever wondered what sort of insight the head of nutrition at a biotech startup might have to offer, you're in luck: Ashley Reaver, RD, is our Lead Nutrition Scientist and she's full of stories. As the woman who fields the majority of user-submitted questions for InsideTracker, Ashley's seen and heard it all... and we're pretty sure you'll be intrigued.
Oh, and bonus prize: there's an awesome video interview to go along with this Q&A.
Q: What are the craziest topics users have asked you about?
A: "Masturbation, marijuana use, and application of things to the scrotum. Yes, really. I love getting user questions because I need to research some of them, which teaches me. Some of them (like these) also catch me off guard and give me a good laugh!"
Q: What's the single most recommended food across ALL user groups?
A: "That would be oatmeal! About 90% of our users have metabolic markers to work on and oatmeal affects them all."
Q: What is the most common biomarker issue, regardless of age, gender or athletic level?
A: "The majority of our users are vitamin D deficient — and not just in the winter. Basically, anyone living north of Virginia is at risk for low levels from about November to April, but we've also seen users in Florida with low D in the summertime, or people that spend a large amount of time outside each day. People currently supplementing might not be taking enough. We often recommend that people increase their dosage when appropriate."
Q: What's the single biggest lifestyle issue facing the majority of users?
A: "Hands down, people are stressed out and not sleeping enough! A lot of users have high cortisol and many men also have low testosterone. Both of these biomarkers are closely tied to sleep. Prioritizing sleep is incredibly important—especially for athletes, but also for regular Joe's. Plan your sleep like you do your workouts!
Managing our stress is also key to being our optimal selves. We recommended meditation and yoga a lot in 2015, but also other general stress management techniques. Take time for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it."
Q: Speaking of pro's vs regular Joe's, are their basic nutrient needs really all that different?
A: "Elite athletes are just like the rest of us. Vitamin D, stress and sleep also rank high on their list of biomarkers out of the optimal range. It's surprising that with a team of support staff some key concepts of general health and wellness still slip through the cracks for athletes. They also have the same struggles preparing healthy food for themselves."
Q: Some user groups have pretty surprising biomarker patterns. Give us the highlights!
- CrossFitters "have higher cholesterol, high cortisol, high creatine kinase and high B vitamins due to supplementation."
- Female runners "have low ferritin. Add vegetarian to the mix and it’s pretty much guaranteed if she isn’t supplementing. Meat isn’t for everyone and neither is supplementing, so being strategic about what and when to eat is important."
- Low-carb endurance runners "have high glucose and high cortisol."
- An overwhelming amount of our female users "want to lose weight even if they have a healthy BMI. Our new goal function helps to set user focus by helping to narrow their intentions. Work on five changes instead of 20+. Just using the product helps individuals eat better because they're making more informed food choices for their specific body's needs."
Q: Your take on supplements: yea or nay?
A: "A lot of people are taking supplements that they don’t need, both regular folks and elite athletes. Unless you know your specific blood data, you don’t know what you need by the way of vitamins. A multivitamin is not a cure all and individuals that need a specific vitamin or mineral most likely aren’t getting the amount they need through a multivitamin. In addition they are also getting more of a slew of vitamins that they don’t need. More is not always better."
Q: What do you say to those who approach you with nutrition "facts" found online?
A: "Some people that think they know about nutrition don’t actually know that much. Many people get blanket nutrition information from websites or friends at the gym but they don’t have enough background information to determine if it is legit or not. I think this is where InsideTracker really stands out because we are completely based on research, not 'he said/she said.' It's hard to argue with your own blood data. 'Blood don’t lie' is 100% true."
Q: Are doctors intimidated by patients having direct access to all of this personal data?
A: "Physicians are interested in us. We can give very specific nutrition guidance based on an individual’s actual data, while most medical physicians have a general understanding about nutrition but mostly about how nutrition affects sick people — not healthy folks and especially not people pushing their physical limits in sport. We’ve been able to give some guidance about what the best first step is or what should be a priority. For example, stop taking some supplements and start adding in some Focus Foods!"
Q: We're sure you'll be busy with New Year's diet resolutions underway. What are you most looking forward to in 2016?
A: "I'm really looking forward to speaking with more users and adding more recommendations in 2016, specifically related to our new Goal functions. We'll be branching out a bit from biomarker-specific stuff and providing some tips and tricks to incorporate into your day-to-day."
Remember, you can always drop us a line or ask Ashley a nutrition-based question by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
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