Olympians trade data for tracking devices

May 29, 2015

by April Dembosky in San Francisco

Olympic athletes are giving up their personal physical data in exchange for the latest gadgets that record sleep, diet and exercise patterns as they try to boost their performance in this year’s games.

Several health technology companies plan to use the athletes’ data to help re-engineer the tracking devices and later reposition the products for the amateur sports performance market or the $61bn weight loss market.

“These are early-phase trials to see how it works,” said Kevin Sayer, president of DexCom, which has donated its continuous glucose monitors to several US athletes. “We’re open to learn.”

Many of the technologies have been developed since the last Olympics and executives at a number of health-tracking companies are looking to the London games to increase their exposure.

Members of the US track cycling team are using the glucose monitor, used primarily by diabetics to help manage blood sugar, together with a sleep monitor from Zeo and genetic reports from Pathway Genomics that indicate nutritional needs and muscular capacity.

“It’s all connected,” said Sky Christopherson, a consultant to the team members and founder of the Optimized Athlete, a start-up that analyses patterns in personal health data.

He uses athletes’ sleep data to improve race times. For example, he discovered there was an optimum amount of deep sleep associated with more powerful performances on the bike track.

In an attempt to increase the athletes’ deep sleep, they studied their blood sugar and recommended night-time snacks that did not cause big fluctuations in the levels. With better sleep, the athletes had better workouts.

Most of the athletes experimenting with the devices are very secretive about it but are willing to donate their data to the companies’ expansion efforts.

“Olympic athletes are on the leading edge of performance. You can expect perfect compliance, which leads to perfect data,” said Ben Rubin, chief executive of Zeo, the sleep tracking device. “We seek to understand their sleep first, then trickle those findings down to everyday athletes and ordinary folks.”