Lab­o­ra­tory �Ja­son Kelly

Vi­tal Sign Weak­ness

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Companies / Industries -

Rusck­owski, met with Giants coowner John Mara and the team’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for med­i­cal ser­vices, Ron­nie Barnes, about col­lab­o­rat­ing. The or­ga­ni­za­tions ul­ti­mately cre­ated a pro­gram to help play­ers get faster and stronger by mea­sur­ing nu­tri­tion, hy­dra­tion, and food al­ler­gies us­ing de­tailed blood tests. Quest and the team doc­tors would an­a­lyze dozens of biomark­ers—for ev­ery­thing from al­bu­min to lym­pho­cytes— and of­fer spe­cific ad­vice. The re­sults, Sch­wabacher says, were pow­er­ful as the ath­letes saw how they could change be­hav­ior and quickly im­prove their per­for­mance on the field by al­ter­ing their work­outs or di­ets. “The play­ers be­came way more en­gaged,” he says.

Soon af­ter the meet­ing, Quest started hon­ing Blue­print for se­ri­ous am­a­teur ath­letes as a way to help its over­all busi­ness grow. The com­pany has 2,200 labs; it’s the big­gest clin­i­cal test­ing com­pany in the U.S. With sales of med­i­cal tests flat and com­pe­ti­tion from com­pa­nies such as Corp. of Amer­ica, bet­ter known as Labcorp., in­creas­ing, Quest is look­ing to sev­eral prod­ucts to boost growth.

The con­sumer ver­sion of Blue­print comes in sev­eral va­ri­eties and costs $225 to $500 per test. On Blue­print’s web­site, ath­letes can choose test pack­ages de­signed to boost en­durance, re­cov­ery, or nu­tri­tion. A clin­i­cian at a Quest lo­ca­tion draws sev­eral vials of blood that are then an­a­lyzed. Af­ter a base­line test at the start of train­ing, an ath­lete can come for fol­low-ups. Some get tested monthly; oth­ers check in quar­terly.

Test re­sults are re­viewed by a physi­cian, who will flag any­thing he or she deems crit­i­cal. The ath­lete ul­ti­mately gets a re­port that can be dozens of pages long, with de­tails on ev­ery­thing from vi­ta­min D to platelet count. The re­port de­fines each biomarker and gives ad­vice on how to com­bat a de­fi­ciency. For ex­am­ple, a high biliru­bin level typ­i­cally means an ath­lete needs to con­sume more iron to boost her red blood cell count.

As a week­end cy­clist, Sch­wabacher sees en­durance ath­letes’ ob­ses­sion with gad­gets and data first­hand. “When I’m on my bike, I’m look­ing at other peo­ple’s bikes and their equip­ment, and we’re talk­ing about it,” he says. The vast ma­jor­ity of pur­chases are based on re­fer­rals. So Sch­wabacher’s team at Quest sought out guinea pigs-cumevan­ge­lists who’d add Blue­print to their work­outs and, ide­ally, tell their friends about it. Over the next year, the com­pany plans to use am­bas­sadors’ and con­sumers’ feed­back to de­ter­mine which di­ag­nos­tics are the most use­ful for spe­cific types of ath­letes.

Ash­ley Mer­ry­man, who stud­ied high-per­for­mance ath­letes for her book Top Dog: The Science of Win­ning and Los­ing, says for test­ing to be ef­fec­tive, ath­letes need to spend a lot more time and money on it. “I’m talk­ing a daily ba­sis,” she says. Truly un­der­stand­ing the in­di­vid­ual ath­lete is crit­i­cal in help­ing some­one stay healthy and com­pet­i­tive, says Dr. Nor­bert Sander, who prac­ticed sports medicine for more than 20 years and is the founder and CEO of New York’s Ar­mory Foun­da­tion, which hosts dozens of in­door track meets yearly. Lab tests, he says, “have a great deal of vari­abil­ity. You have to won­der how much good they do that a reg­u­lar screen­ing with an in­ternist wouldn’t.”

Quest, Sch­wabacher says, aims to cre­ate some­thing “that’s use­ful as one of the many tools an ath­lete can use in their train­ing.” The com­pany’s chal­lenge is to ef­fec­tively dis­till the re­sults into ac­tion­able ad­vice. Christina Ross, a Blue­print am­bas­sador and a doc­tor in Min­nesota, is a long­time triath­lete who’s re­cently taken up longdis­tance, sin­gle- speed moun­tain bike rac­ing. “What I like is that it’s sci­ence­based,” she says. Ross says the test­ing showed her where to tweak her nu­tri­tion, adding sup­ple­ments where nec­es­sary. She got tested reg­u­larly dur­ing train­ing, in­clud­ing right be­fore a race. “It didn’t show ev­i­dence of over­train­ing. Not only did I feel like I’d done the work, I was pre­pared in the right way.”

Kris­ten Heath is work­ing on a plan to counter her hy­pothy­roidism and low iron lev­els. “That’s re­ally dif­fi­cult for an ath­lete, when they’re not in line,” says Heath, who lives out­side Syra­cuse and trains for long-dis­tance races in her spare time. She de­scribes her­self as in­tensely com­pet­i­tive and al­ways look­ing for an edge. With­out data, she says, “you kind of go by feel.”

Ross and Heath will both com­pete on bikes in this year’s Leadville 100, for which Blue­print for Ath­letes is the lead spon­sor. The race, in the Colorado moun­tains, is among the most fa­mous ul­tra­ma­rathons. (The “100” in the ti­tle is the num­ber of miles com­peti­tors cover, at el­e­va­tions from 9,200 feet to 12,600 feet.)

Quest in April will launch a 30- day chal­lenge, in partnership with Un­der Ar­mour’s Mapmyfit­ness, through which con­tes­tants can win an en­try to the fully booked Leadville bike or run. It’s an easy way for Quest to iden­tify fu­ture Blue­print cus­tomers. Peo­ple nutty enough to run or ride 100 miles in the moun­tains are look­ing for all the help they can get—and will­ing to pay for it.

An­nual change in Quest’s rev­enue “Not only did I feel like I’d done the work, I was pre­pared in the right way.” —— Blue­print Am­bas­sador Christina Ross

In five of the past six years, sales grew less

than 1 per­cent The bot­tom line Quest, whose clin­i­cal test­ing busi­ness is flat, has cre­ated a per­for­mance test for am­a­teur ath­letes that could spur growth.

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