Alexi Pappas has one impressive resume. Greek-American runner. Author. Actress. Olympian. Greek national record holder in the 10,000 meters set at the 2016 Summer Olympics. There’s not much this woman hasn’t done. And there’s no limit in sight for what she will achieve in her life. But her accomplishments, drive, and perseverance weren’t possible without consistent recalibration and self-check-in. Alexi wanted objective, science-backed indicators to measure and evaluate her performance, health, and well-being. So, she turned to the data. She turned to Garmin and InsideTracker.
What do you do with all this personalized data?
“I came to the world of InsideTracker and Garmin really organically and independently,” says Alexi. “When I got to college ten years ago, I didn’t know anything about my body or myself.” That’s when she started using a Garmin smartwatch and was immediately attracted to how the device could not only keep track of her mileage but also provide data on sleep and resting heart rate (RHR). Because of the watch’s accuracy and precision, it’s often the preferred fitness tracker for elite endurance athletes like Alexi. She later found InsideTracker, a personalized wellness and nutrition system, and has been using the platform for years to get a look at her blood biomarkers and receive personalized nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations. “InsideTracker’s science-backed ProTips make it simple for me to apply trusted science to daily habits and then see the changes to my own biomarkers."
Equipped now with all this data, Alexi has faced the challenge of figuring out what all of it means. “I was looking at both pieces of the puzzle separately and trying to figure out on my own how the data converge.” There must be a way to sync the data, right? After all, it’s all information about the same person. Well, now there is.
How InsideTracker and Garmin work together
Thanks to a new collaboration, data from Garmin smartwatches are now integrated with the InsideTracker mobile app. InsideTracker pulls data daily for RHR, total sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep, and uses its patented algorithm to provide each user with personalized optimized zones and science-backed recommendations for improving these physiomarkers.
For endurance athletes like Alexi, these are important indicators of rest and recovery. “Having the two integrated in the same app is truly next-level for hitting my performance and longevity goals,” says Pappas. But knowing these values are still important for those not operating at Olympic training levels. Having an unoptimized resting heart rate or disturbed sleep is associated with mental health challenges, immune health issues, and chronic diseases like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Once your Garmin smartwatch syncs with Garmin Connect, the InsideTracker mobile app can automatically receive activity and health data through the auto check-in feature (read more about that here). No more recording a run or a workout and manually inputting that data to the InsideTracker mobile app. Everything now seamlessly syncs.
All that data is then integrated with your InsideTracker blood and DNA test results, and you get daily recommendations to optimize your RHR and sleep. These insights are essential for enhancing performance. Here's how.
RHR is a measure of athletic performance and as a predictor of health
RHR refers to the number of times the heart beats per minute while at rest. A lower RHR typically indicates physical fitness, as that person requires less exertion to circulate blood at rest.
Alexi uses her RHR data to inform and optimize her training schedule. “Before the Olympics, on a big pre-race workout day, I noticed that my resting heart rate was elevated. As a result, my coach and I pushed my workout until the next day. These kinds of adjustments are markers of maturity, and I went on to set a new personal best and break the Greek national record in my Olympic 10k race.”
Alexi and her coach were able to make that decision from the data from her Garmin smartwatch, as this was long before the InsideTracker and Garmin integration. But what if the two had been integrated at the time?
Well, InsideTracker would have alerted her to her higher-than-average RHR and given her even more recommendations, such as to practice yoga, eat a meal with fatty fish like salmon, or stay hydrated—all of which are associated with a lower RHR—to help maximize her rest day.
RHR is also associated with several blood biomarkers such as cortisol, LDL and HDL cholesterol, glucose, and HbA1C. Maintaining an optimal RHR will also positively impact these biomarkers—a connection that may have been missed without this type of data integration.
Sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer
Sleep plays an integral role in all processes in the body. It’s essential for a strong immune system, muscle repair, better mood, and improved athletic performance. “In distance running especially, I fully believe that sleep and recovery are just as important as the mileage you run,” says Alexi. She prioritizes sleep and uses the data from her Garmin smartwatch to track her deep sleep, total sleep time, and REM sleep.
“One major thing I’ve learned from my insights is that, while training at altitude is compatible with my sleep and recovery for short periods, after around five weeks I notice my deep sleep begins to drop off. When I saw that suffering—thanks to my Garmin—I actually made a huge lifestyle change and based myself at sea level instead of living up at high altitude.”
InsideTracker doesn't currently have an altitude recommendation to enhance sleep but does provide other recommendations such as including vitamin D-rich foods in the diet, maximizing sleep routines (read more about how to do that here), or supplementing with magnesium. These recommendations not only take data from the Garmin smartwatch into account, but also insights from blood work and DNA tests.
Insufficient deep sleep can outwardly impact performance, such as recording slower times, but it can also impact blood biomarkers like cortisol, testosterone, and vitamin D. “After the 2016 Olympics, during my post-Olympic depression, my InsideTracker results showed that my cortisol was very elevated,” says Alexi.
Sleep is a powerful tool in optimizing cortisol levels. Now that InsideTracker and Garmin are integrated, it’s possible to draw more accurate connections between sleep and biomarkers like cortisol.[1-4] And the next time Alexi has blood work done and her cortisol measured, she’ll have the data to see whether sleep may be the cause of an optimized or unoptimized cortisol level.
But surprisingly, poor sleep isn’t always the cause of fatigue or lack of energy. So even though a Garmin smartwatch accurately records your sleep and InsideTracker tells you whether those levels are optimized for you, it’s possible that something besides sleep is causing you to feel tired. And the root cause of that may only show up in your bloodwork.
Alexi experienced just that. “I remember receiving one test that indicated my iron was low, and it was like a light bulb went off—so many physical symptoms I had been struggling with suddenly made sense! I was sluggish and tired, and found myself waking up fatigued and getting tired early into runs. Once I saw my iron levels, I was able to adjust my diet and felt better right away.”
Having this type of integrated data is essential for properly addressing the crux of an issue.
An enhanced support system
It’s often left to the athlete to determine, fix, and then communicate the state of their physical health, mental health, and performance to their support network. As a runner, Alexi says, “A lot of the responsibility falls on you to determine how you’re doing and then translating that to your coach, physical therapist, parent, sibling, or partner. InsideTracker feels like an additional coach or a team captain who’s on the field with me translating the dialog of my personal data. It eliminates the game of telephone I play with my support system and streamlines the conversation.”
Whether you're an athlete or not, enhancing communication with your support system about your health encourages growth and change.
Time to recalibrate
For Alexi, the word recalibrate signifies allowing yourself to grow. “Moments for recalibration happen between workouts, seasons, Olympic cycles, and even just daily. Recalibration allows me to evaluate what I’m doing, how I could be doing it better, and how I can keep doing what I’m doing for longer,” says Alexi. “Insights from InsideTracker and Garmin are especially beneficial for endurance athletes to be equipped with this type of data and feedback for improving their bloodwork, sleep, and resting heart rate because our goal is to push our bodies to the limit.”
Reaching lofty yet attainable goals in or outside of the athletic world isn’t possible without consistent evaluation and adjustments. Athletes in particular push themselves hard to reach their goals. But “it’s just as important to be as kind to yourself as you are hard on yourself,” says Alexi, “and knowing how to rest and recover enables us to be kinder to our bodies.”
Alexi Pappas is a Greek-American and holds the Greek national record in the 10,000-meters and competed for Greece in the 2016 Olympics. She’s an award-winning actor and writer. Her memoir-in-essays, "Bravery," was published January, 2021 (check it out here).