This Veteran Uses InsideTracker to Optimize His Performance and Stay Alive

By Ross Yellin Nov 11, 2016

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Meet Chris McNamara, a total badass. With more than 15 years of active duty, being a Master Sergeant and member of the Army Special Operations Command qualifies him for the superlative alone. Add to that, his Joint Service Commendation Medal, 5 Bronze Stars, and USOC Medic of the Year awards along with the fact that he’s a CrossFit Regionals athlete, and a testicular cancer survivor, and you’ve got a deadly combination on your hands. 

So how does he stay on top of all it, and continue to operate at peak performance like his life depends on it (oh wait, it does!)? Simple, he takes the time to ensure his motor is running like a finely tuned sports car. Just like checking the oil, he tests with InsideTracker, and encourages the athletes he coaches and his fellow unit members to test as well.

In anticipation of Veteran's Day, I had the pleasure of sitting down with him to talk about his experience…

Is your performance optimized? So let’s start with a bit of background… tell me about yourself.

"Sure let’s start at the beginning. 2001, I was getting ready to graduate high school and was going the pre-med route at the University of Texas and then 9/11 happened. So I joined the military to do my part. I was planning on doing just a couple of years to get some medical experience, as I joined up in the medical section. But at the same time, I had a family friend who was an Army Ranger, so I went that route, and spent about 6 or 8 years there and was deployed 6 times as a Ranger. Then, I came up to where I am now, at Fort Bragg, still part of the Special Operations community, and have been deployed another 8 times since then.

"I got into the human performance arena back in 2001-2003 when the military had an eye—opening realization that their physical training program was broken. They were following an antiquated model of push-ups, sit-ups, and a 2-mile run. Simply put, it really wasn’t a good translation of real world, combat-focused ability or fitness."

And that’s where the search began for optimal performance?

"Well, from there, they took a bunch of us who did things on the “outside” – and what I mean by that is more endurance-focused athletes. And what we saw after a couple years of war, was that was not what was necessary. By doing a little bit of a needs analysis, we realized that we need to be more on the strength/power end. A hybrid athlete with an aerobic engine to back them up. With power to weight ratio being king."

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"Nowadays, we’re getting deeper into the individualization piece. Not only that, but we’re also into something we like to call ‘increasing career longevity’ or ‘preserving the human capital.’ Because, we’ve got guys, well, like myself now, who have been in since day one of the war who have got 14-15 deployments and 4 and a half years of combat time. That experience, you can’t buy it, you can’t replicate it, nothing.

"So if we’re going to look at me as the average guy, which I kind of am, then we’re going to get to the point where my skillset physically starts to degrade soon, but cognitively and technically, I’m still peaking. I’m using all that experience. So we need to take that merger of physical ability and cognitive ability, and skillset, and move that toward the right side of the timeline so that I can stay in my job longer at a high level. In comes InsideTracker."

I’d hardly say a guy with 15+ years in Army Special Operations qualifies as average, but I guess within that setting… 

"Well, we’ve got some really high performing guys, studs, who like to train until they bleed and puke, and we try to get them to realize that’s not sustainable over the long term. So we try to optimize training, optimize performance, and we realized the military was not doing a good job of looking under the hood. So we reached out to a couple of companies, InsideTracker being one of them, and you guys being the one I use for my business as well (Evolution Athletics), to help crack that code.

"We’re really trying to define the needs of a tactical athlete. A lot of people like to put a lacrosse model or football model or an endurance model on top of us, and you just can’t. The needs vary by mission, by daily activities, and by the theater that you’re in. They vary based on literally what you’re doing day-to-day, so you can’t apply one thing. You have to have a very adaptive and agile model. But it still all boils down to the human. They’ve got to move well. They have to maintain cognitive and physical ability, but at the same time, we can use new emerging technologies, like you guys and say ‘hey, here’s an individualized N (sample size) of 1 for our guy who has 30+ years behind him that we’re not going to reverse overnight. So let’s respect that a little bit and help him optimize where he is on this point in time, on this day. It’s about getting real time data though companies like InsideTracker to help us paint that performance picture down to the individual."

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So is it fair to say you found InsideTracker in an effort to better the unit as a whole?

"Absolutely, but there’s two different ways of looking at it. As the old saying goes, ‘the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.’ Additionally, we have to look at the guys in the particular unit I’m in. Most of them have 5+ years of service. We’re not getting the perfectly healthy 22-year-old fresh out of college, so we have to define our own baselines. Where we are now. It’s about realizing that our typical person is here, and answering the question of where we want them to be.

"If you’ve ever seen the War Fighter 2030 study done by the Defense Science Board, they saw that by the year 2030 all of these different realms for the military will be more advanced, whether it’s avionics, or weaponry, or intelligence gathering techniques, all of these things, but the human will still be the same. So what are we doing to maximize the human? So there’s 5 areas we’re focusing on. It’s understanding the gut microbiome and maximize it. Maximize neuroplasticity and look into cognition. Check out diet, our diet is broken. And then they’re looking at things like individual performance measures like vitamin D. 70% of the military is vitamin D deficient. What are we doing about that? Or 30% of them are anemic. What are we doing about that? That’s baseline function.

"A lot of people want to go down the route of hormones, and sex hormones, testosterone, and cortisol, and all of these other things. But, we’re not optimizing sleep, and we’re not optimizing nutrition. Those are things we can do on a daily basis that can have effects in bigger places. So if we’re not even looking at that, why are they trying to jump to the bigger things? In my opinion, sleep better, eat better, and let’s see how that does for you first."

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What are some of the benefits that you’ve seen from InsideTracker?

"So what we’re finding on our end, is showing our individuals ‘I know you say you’re doing well, but you’re not. Let’s fix that.’ Then when they get reset baseline, or they get to optimize their health again, and they feel what normal is again, then, they know.

"Then it’s other things like breaking the stigma of no sleep culture. When I was in Ranger School and some other parts of my career, getting 4 hours of sleep at night, that was an amazing night, and it wasn’t even all at once. And that was a couple months straight. But guess what? That’s not sustainable. That’s not high performance. And after guys are living in that realm for so long, they don’t realize it. So that’s what we’re trying to do. Give them an objective quantifiable thing that says ‘hey, you may not believe what we’re telling you because you think you’re awesome. But you’re not, and here’s why.’ InsideTracker puts it on paper." 

So what drew you to InsideTracker in the first place?

"So I’ll back up to 2006 when I was getting ready to come to the unit that I’m in now, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Through that process, I took a strong interest in what was going on in the blood, and began to wonder why we weren’t doing more with that on a monitoring level. An upstream defeat level. So what brought me to InsideTracker in 2014 was just looking stuff up. Seeing what was out there and what was safe. That’s when I found you.

"One of the big things that drew me to you was your user interface. It’s simple for the guys who want to know where to focus and what to do. But for those that are more interested in the science, like me, they can dive in."

So when you tested with us for the first time, were you surprised by anything? Was there anything that really needed attention?

"You know, I’m kind of known as the fitness guy around here. So my diet and things were all pretty dialed in. I thought I was in a pretty good spot, but I was going off of subjective feelings. I was going off of guesses in terms of vitamin D and everything else. In fact, one of the ones I was worried about was vitamin D – that’s huge for us. But, when I got my results, my vitamin D was high. So I thought, okay, maybe I ought to back off from 10,000 units a day because that was the protocol I saw on a podcast. And that’s what they were doing with us because we were working nightshift at the time, we weren’t getting much sunlight, we weren’t getting quality food. I was coming off a deployment where sources of vitamin D outside of a bottle are hard to get. So unless I was taking my D vitamins every day, I thought I wasn’t getting them. But I was, so I was fine."

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"At the same time, some things like creatine kinase and hsCRP were elevated through the roof. But that was understandable. I was also in a hard training cycle coming back from deployment and getting ready for CrossFit Regionals. But again, it was a great indicator of what was going on.

"On the sex hormones and metabolic level, being a testicular cancer survivor, that’s always been a question for me. How are my hormone levels? Am I under producing? What’s going on? And to see that I was in relatively normal ranges or optimal ranges was pretty good. It meant I didn’t have to go beg the doctors for further testing and check me out for other things."

You mentioned you competed at CrossFit Regionals. So I have to ask, how did you get into CrossFit?

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"Well, CrossFit is producing some world class lifters who also have aerobic engines that they’re ‘not supposed to have.’

"So, as I mentioned, being in the military, that's the kind of athlete we need. You need to be able to get to where you're going, but you're also typically wearing 1/3 of your body weight in equipment. Then, when you get there, absolute strength and power are king. If you get in a hand-to-hand fight for example, you’re not going to gut your way through that.

"Via Glassman (CrossFit's Founder), everything in CrossFit is supposed to be measureable, observable, and repeatable. Everyone wants metrics and fitness. And their definition of fitness is ‘work capacity across broad time and modal domains.’ So if you’re not maximizing your own body down to cellular levels ability to create power output, you’re not maximizing work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Really, it starts almost at the cellular level and builds up for CrossFit performance at the truest level. That’s why you’re seeing the best ones in the world using InsideTracker to optimize their nutrition and maximize their recovery."

"I don’t care who you are. CrossFit and blood. The results don’t lie. Measurable, repeatable, observable. That’s what I love about it."
Is your performance optimized?

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