Blood Glucose Monitors about to Make A Big Impact - Svexa's Filip Larsen interviewed.

More and more elite athletes have small buttons on their arms. The wireless blood glucose monitors - developed for diabetics - are expected to make a big impact in the training world, both for elite and amateur athletes. Svexa's Chief Science Officer Dr Filip Larsen was interviewed recently by Svenska Dagbladet on this new advance in athletic science and technology. Filip has been working for several years with the Swedish orienteering team, one of the first national teams in the world to use continuous glucose monitors to track energy levels during training and recovery. This allowed them to adjust energy levels as needed and avoid overtraining. The result was historic success for the team at the recent World Championships.


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All athletes that svexa works with are encourage to use CGMs to evaluate nutritional strategies and give insights on training optimization. Svexa uses devices from Supersapiens/Abbott, a US-based sports performance company focused on energy management systems that empower athletes to discover endless energy and go faster longer.

The Olympic pole vault champion, Thiago Braz of Brazil, does not have diabetes - but he's wearing the glucose meter hoping to improve his performance. Photo: Anke Waelischmiller / Sven Simon / TT


Nowadays, more and more athletes wear wireless glucose monitors - and the function is soon rumored to also be available in activity watches. The more we learn about how blood sugar levels affect performance, the more it can be improved. It can also be a way to avoid overtraining, says Filip Larsen, associate professor of sports science at the School of Gymnastics and Sports, GIH, in Stockholm. To function optimally, the body needs carbohydrates that can be converted into blood sugar (glucose). When you exercise, your blood sugar drops, as the muscles' uptake of sugar increases dramatically. Therefore, exercise is one of the most important tools a diabetic has to keep their blood sugar in check. Previously, it has been assumed that elite athletes, due to the fact that they train so much, do not have very large variations in their blood sugar levels. But a study done by Filip Larsen and his colleagues at GIH shows something else.

The researchers let 15 elite athletes and 12 'recreational' athletes wear blood glucose monitors for two weeks and were able to establish that the elite's blood sugar levels varied much more than the amateurs'. The peaks were higher and the valleys deeper. "Many elite athletes had very low blood sugar at night, which surprised us" says Filip Larsen. His theory is that hard training affects how much sugar the cells can absorb. This may be because the mitochondria, which act as the cell's powerhouse, are important for the body's sugar uptake and their function seems to be disrupted during tough training periods. According to Kerstin Brismar, professor of diabetes research at Karolinska Institutet, the diet of elite athletes can also be an explanation. For example, carbohydrate loading before a competition gives high blood sugar levels, which increases insulin production which then lowers blood sugar so that it even becomes low, she says. If and how the variation in blood sugar levels affects performance, there are so far few studies on. It is only now, when the wireless glucose monitors have taken off, that the researchers have finally got a good tool to be able to study this. "Previously, we have not had the opportunity to measure blood sugar levels continuously", says Kerstin Brismar.

Technology is truly a revolution.

The sensors are attached to the body, often on the arm or abdomen, and have a small needle that penetrates the outermost layer of skin. For diabetic patients who can receive life-threatening injuries if they do not keep their blood sugar in check, the technology has brought great benefits. In the past, needle sticks were required several times a day or care visits to keep track of sugar levels. "The technology is really a revolution, and will give diabetics better blood sugar and longer life, because they can now measure in real time what glucose levels look like, and keep the curve more even without high values", says Kerstin Brismar. She also sees great benefits with the monitors for athletes. Those who do endurance sports, such as running and cross-country skiing, can, for example, set the meter so that it warns when the blood sugar level drops during a race and it is time to refill with a sports drink or sugar gel. There are wireless glucose monitors specially developed for athletes, and the function may soon also be available in activity watches. According to media reports, Apple and several other companies are working on developing their own variants of blood glucose monitors, but the secrecy is great about which technology is being used. Kerstin Brismar questions reliability. "You can probably mostly see large changes in the levels with the help of such monitors. When the blood sugar drops, you start sweating, so it is possible to measure the moisture in the skin, but it can also be due to other things. Our hypothesis is that low blood sugar levels release stress hormones." Kerstin Brismar believes more in other forms of monitors. Research is currently being carried out to develop a lens for the eye, where variations in, for example, the color of the lens can be linked to the blood sugar value. It seems safer and easier.

Multiple Factors Affect Performance

Before and during the Tokyo Olympics, glucose monitors were seen on the arms of many athletes. The Swedish orienteering national team is just one of many sports teams that have let their active wear the sensors, and some of their national team runners are part of a new study that researchers at GIH will now carry out. The purpose is to learn more about how blood sugar levels affect and are affected by performance. Other parameters such as sleep quality and diet will also be included in the study, which will run for one year. "Our hypothesis is that low blood sugar levels release stress hormones which in turn affect sleep. We also believe that the immune system can be affected and become more sensitive to infections", says Filip Larsen who leads the study. It is an incredible educational instrument. Many elite athletes who become overtrained also have problems with sleep and recurrent infections, and thus begin to respond less to training. If the problem is not fixed in time, the effects can be long-lasting. Some athletes who become overtrained end their careers prematurely. Our hope with the study is that by studying the blood sugar levels be able to find a warning signal for when an athlete is approaching overtraining, and when it is time to reduce the load. Filip Larsen believes that blood sugar measurement is about to make a big impact in the training world. He is convinced that even amateur fitness enthusiasts have a lot to learn from the monitors. "It is an incredible educational instrument for understanding how one's own body works. I myself often get a slump at three, four o'clock in the afternoon and lose concentration. When I was wearing a meter, I could see that the slump coincided with when the blood sugar was at its lowest." says Dr Larsen.

Glucose Monitors for Everyone?

According to Filip Larsen, blood glucose monitors can be an important tool for everyone who exercises, both elite and amateur, who want to understand and influence when the body is most ready for exercise You get the most out of your training when your blood sugar levels are stable. This is why you should digest the food first, or not exercise when you are too hungry. If you know that you get a blood sugar slump in the afternoon, it can be prevented with a snack. This means that you do not skip the training session after work as often.

At SVEXA, we believe that access to technology and sports science insights should be available not just to elite athletes, but to anyone that is keen on gaining a better understanding of their recovery and performance. If you’d like to hear more about how our tools can help your athletes train, recover, and perform better then Contact Us now


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