Supersapiens is a platform designed for athletes to continuously monitor their glucose levels with technology that was once only accessible to those diagnosed with diabetes.
My interest in real-time glucose or sugar monitoring started on a cloudy morning at work, midway through my clinic. It had been a few weeks since I had changed my training and food regime. I’ll admit, I felt a little grumpy. Our nurse came into the room and noted my signature on the prescription, and I both looked a little deflated. We had a little joke, and I told her I was in hour 13 of my fast, “You should check your blood sugar,” she said. And so I did.
On the lower side, sure, but no worries – I was minutes away from a three-egg broccoli omelette in my bag.
I had come across continuous glucose monitors obviously through work and an in-depth article on the tech – CGM: Is it an abbreviation to remember? But, I began to ask how my diet, exercise, and genetics affect my glucose level and can I optimise them? Did I really need all this information? Initially, I was doing random blood sugar testing, but I quickly began to appreciate the difficulties that some patients report, including the discomfort of regular finger pricks. So, googling away, I read that some people who didn’t have diabetes had been using devices like the Freestyle Libre and running their own tests.
I stumbled across this start-up following reading about a successful capital raise of 13.5 million dollars and so naturally became interested. Their offering was a CGM tailored for athletes and active people looking to understand their food, exercise and the subsequent link to optimise their training and results.
What is it?
Supersapiens is a monitoring system that allows athletes to manage their glucose levels to maximise performance gains, promote healthy recovery, and find their unique glucose performance zones. Whether training for a triathlon, marathon or bodybuilding, all athletes can use the system.
The platform includes the CGM device and the app. It uses the Abbott Libre Sense Glucose Sport Biosensor, which is worn on the back of the upper arm for up to 14 days of continuous use. A thin, flexible filament is inserted under the skin painlessly and simply. It detects glucose levels from the interstitial fluid – A thin layer of fluid surrounding the cells of the tissue below your skin. The biosensor then sends accurate live glucose data to the app, allowing users to visualise their levels.
- Small sensor – 35mm by 5mm and weighs 5 grams
- Bluetooth glucose sensor with NFC connectivity
- On-board memory lasts for approx. 8 hours
- 14-day continuous monitoring with real-time data
- Supersapiens app tailored to help optimise fuelling for sports providing target ranges and ‘insights’
- Water-resistant for 1 metre and up to 30 minutes in water immersion
My package came with sensors and performance patches. These are coverings that are sweat and waterproof to protect the sensor. After application, the sensor felt secure enough to me. However, I suspect those in contact sports or regular water contact would benefit from knowing the sensor is secure by using a patch. It would be a shame to need a replacement on day one.
The application is simple. The app has a step-by-step guide, and there’s a video too. The sensor requires an applicator that removes the sensor from the packaging, and then you press down the applicator to insert into the upper arm. There’s a tiny needle approx. 7mm and only 1mm wide. It’s painless and most likely made worse for many by being able to look at the needle from all angles. I’d advise against pondering upon it for too long. According to the company data, 91.6% of 119 users surveyed reported it was completely painless. There is a slight chance of bleeding or bruising at 0.7% and redness at 2.7% of users.
The needle doesn’t stay in the skin, but its purpose is to leave a bendy 5mm metal filament at the base of the sensor firmly in your upper arm. The whole wearable remains attached to the skin with a sticky plaster type backing. It’s advised to use an area of the upper arm that stays flat, and you have to clean the area with plain soap and an alcohol wipe to ensure the site has no oils which would affect the stickiness. The mid tricep muscle region worked perfectly for me.
For removal, you peel away the white adhesive. I admit it was tough to remove for me, but a forum thread from Freestyle Libre users revealed that some coconut oil around the edges helps – It worked a treat! Just remember that if you are applying another sensor to the same arm, it will need a good clean.
What did I learn in 48 hours?
Why 48 hours and not the whole 14 days, I hear you ask?
Unfortunately, despite the helpful support team at Supersapiens the Libre sport wouldn’t pair with my iPhone XS Max. Now, I’m not one to blame anyone, but it could be that the phone had just too many bumps and knocks. But, I kept the sensor on and during a visit up north to see my parents, I paired the CGM on my mum’s phone for the weekend using NFC…She didn’t need it anyway; her favourite son was home!!
All you need to do (usually) is bring the NFC area on a smartphone close to the sensor. It takes about an hour ‘warm up’ and then via Bluetooth, you can see the current glucose readings on the ‘live’ screen, which is essentially the app’s home page. The sugar level is measured in mg/dl (milligrams per decilitre), ranging from 55 to 200. Here in the UK, when checking blood sugar with a finger prick test using a BM monitor, we are more accustomed to using mmol/L. But, there are plenty of conversion tables to help if you need to see in that format, i.e. 55mg/l; the lowest possible reading from the sensor is equivalent to 3.1 mmol/L.
Now, this weekend didn’t involve my typical weight sessions, runs, intermittent fasting, carb-loading pre-workouts etc. However, it was a chance to play with the system. Three things stood out for me in this short test:
1. Being able to see continuous data was fascinating: The sensor takes readings every 60 seconds. These are displayed in an easy-to-read graph, showing times in range and performance zones. While more and more wearables are starting to offer continuous heart rate readings, such as the Fitbit Sense, sugar levels are more challenging. Until, say, someone develops the tech to check readings from our sweat. Having all this information as a fellow data geek in a good user interface meant I could understand how anything from a coffee to a big home-cooked meal affected my levels in the day.
2. Challenging current thoughts: Despite planning to rest at the weekend, I had to try the sensor on a run. No issues with the sensor and being sweaty. But, I had previously thought that doing a fasted run or cardio would lower my sugars during the run. Especially as I struggle at the end of a 5k with energy and maintaining pace. Interestingly, my body was much better than I felt at seeking to provide me with fuel for physical movement. As you can see from the graph, I’m not in the performance zone, but the sensor helped me understand my metabolic health better, and how my bodily response might be different to others.
3. Life hacks: One of the surprises for me was how quickly my level fell during meditation (Shown by the pencil icon in the picture). It reminded me of when I was researching meditation and its positive effects on lowering blood pressure back in medical school. However, this is just one session on a single person, so not scientific in any way. But, it struck me that by making this technology more accessible to people or researchers, we could discover whether we can learn more about lifestyle hacks and sugar levels, and improve outcomes for health over the longer term.
The truth is, this felt like the next biological parameter that we would measure regularly. We have been accustomed to blood pressure, oxygen sats and heart rate. I can see the appeal and necessity to high performing athletes to ensure their strategies maintain them in their ‘glucose performance zone.’ Obviously, the benefits of CGM are already huge for those with diabetes.
It will charm the curious, those who want to learn more about their body, their personal relationship to food, sleep, exercise, stress and more. If the information is available, using that data for health promotion and prevention is equally important. Being able to experiment, run tests and then make small changes to improve is an aspect that appeals innately.
I think the key thing will be how people can interpret and use the information. It requires at least some general understanding of glucose levels and nutrition and then how to optimise this on an individual basis. But, maybe some of us don’t need that much detail. For example, the Apple watch series 6 detects and alerts users of only one serious abnormality in heart rhythm, despite doctors and healthcare professionals being aware of hundreds. In the same sense, would a typical user only need to know if their blood sugar has gone critically too high or low? It’s worth remembering though, that Supersapiens at present has a specific audience for use.
The platform’s price varies from the monthly membership package, which includes two sensors and four performance patches and is currently priced at 150 euros per month. There are also training specific packages, a 10-week package priced at 435 euros suitable for training goals that are similar to running up to a half marathon and a 14 and 18-week package aimed at endurance events. The cost will limit access to some users, but I think non-professional athletes are unlikely to need months and months of use.
Firstly, a new phone.
Secondly, I’ll be back, reporting back on all the highs, and any lows, after using the system for longer…And testing some new features to the app!
Image: Supersapiens, Abbott and Once Daily