The New York Liberty experienced some incredible achievements in the 2015 season. The squad posted a new franchise record for wins, 23, and finished with the best record in the WNBA (23-11) for the first time in its nearly two decades of competition.
Whenever a team is able to perform at a high level, like the Liberty was last season, there are a myriad of contributing factors including team chemistry, roster depth, and impact performances from every player on the roster.
But New York was also aided by a new factor, its use of the Quest Diagnostics Blueprint for Athletes program. The Liberty experienced impressive lineup consistency, nine players saw action in at least 30 games, and New York found itself peaking at the right time, going 11-3 over a five-week stretch that culminated in clinching the league’s top overall record heading into the postseason.
Innovative science and insights from Quest helped smooth the way. Blueprint for Athletes is a novel blood test service from Quest Diagnostics that gives athletes, both professional and amateur, insights into biological factors that may affect their athletic performance and overall health.
“It’s certainly an incredible tool to have at our disposal,” said Liberty center Carolyn Swords. “The key is to stay healthy, and for your team to stay healthy. This information is helping our training staff be able to monitor how we’re doing, make sure we are not over doing it, that we are properly fueled, and giving us the best chance at staying healthy.”
For a team like the Liberty, the benefits of Blueprint for Athletes are all encompassing when it comes to training and preparation. By evaluating levels of blood-based health markers, the program is capable of providing specific individualized insights athletes can use to help improve their performance.
“Blueprint for Athletes is a tool and a toolbox. It gives athletes more information to help them get ready to perform,” said Dr. Maren Fragala, Director, Athlete Health and Performance for Quest. “What we do is have them identify things that can improve their diet, to maybe indicate your hydration status, look at muscle recover status to really help them examine on an individual level what the athlete needed.”
For Quest, the Liberty represented the ideal franchise to partner with on Blueprint for Athletes. Because of the distinct physiological difference between male and female athletes, working with world-class women competing at the highest level was a priority.
That need, coupled with New York’s outstanding leadership in the front office, coaching staff, and medical team, resulted in an effective partnership.
Once Quest began to monitor the Liberty players during the 2015 season, the results from the Blueprint program began to guide decisions regarding diet, training, and recovery, especially when it came to addressing challenges unique to being a female athlete.
“One of the biggest differences we have seen with female athletes is that for a variety of reasons they tend to be more iron deficient, and athletes that are iron deficient fatigue faster than athletes who aren’t,” said Dr. Fragala. “It is something that is very easy to identify and very easy to correct.”
This is something Swords experienced, as she found that for her, after identifying the issue because of Blueprint for Athletes, she was able to work with a nutritionist to develop a multi-tiered plan to address the problem.
In addition to taking iron supplements into the offseason, she also how to get more iron naturally through diet, the result of which was apparent a year later.
“My tests came back this season, and I am now getting what I need from the food I’m eating, which is optimal instead of supplements,” said Swords. “With that knowledge I’ve been able to tweak my decision making and make sure I am making the most of my eating decisions.”
Proper diet is essential to achieving optimal performance, but addressing the physical stresses that come from intense training, whether it is for an amateur athlete or a WNBA star, is another component.
Admittedly for Swords, for a competitor, the first inclination is always to push harder. During an off day or down time, like her teammates, often she would come to the MSG Training Center looking to engage in vigorous training session, but she learned that is not always the best decision.
Sometimes less is more. By assessing stress levels and internal inflammation, Blueprint showed the Liberty athletes and training staff when it was actually better to scale back the physical activity.
“Last season was incredibly competitive, especially in the Eastern Conference, so for a lot of us our tests came back and showed we were dealing with a lot of stress,” said Swords. “What that information showed our training staff is that they could help with our training load or the volume, helping us still train efficiently, but train smarter as well.”
New York is now in its second season using Blueprint for Athletes, and already players that have used the product for multiple seasons are reaping the benefits of having all of that knowledge.
While it is easy for a trainer to identify physical ailments, with Blueprint for Athletes player care and preparation reaches new levels of specificity. New York Liberty players experienced first hand how to design victory with insights from Quest.
“It really turned out to be an amazing part of our training,” said Swords. “Using that new information, we were able to design programs in terms of eating and making decisions to help us perform at an optimal level.”