Behind the Gear
Athletes wore Myonwear shorts, impregnated with sensors that measure minute changes in electrical activity in muscles, recording the firing of hams, quads, glutes. They wore Dexcom glucose meters, which slip a wire the diameter of a human hair into a fatty spot and transmit blood glucose information full time. They wore FirstBeat sensors when they slept, which captured information about heart rate and movement, creating a nightly sleep quality record.
When they saddled up to ride, scientists swarmed them, taping on electrodes measuring their hearts and brains, sticking tubes in their mouths to quantify their breath and even capturing their sweat to study electrolyte levels.
“The future of training is to stop cookbook recipes of generalized regimens," said Frank Bour, whose PhysioFlow impedance cardiography device generates electrical signals that create an electrical representation of heart function, again giving athletes a level of data that yields performance insights still on the frontier of sports science. Because one source of cardiac data is never enough, they wore Equivital monitors that they simply pulled on over their heads like jerseys.
And they wore NIRS -- Near InfraRed Spectrometry -- devices, which measure tissue blood saturation with sonar. The device issues signals, which reflect back differently according to whether hemoglobin in blood and tissue is oxygenated or not, giving scientists a real-time measure of what’s happening in an athlete’s muscles rather than taking a lactate measure and deducing muscle status from that. “NIRS is the reporter in the arena at the hockey game,” said scientist Juerg Feldmann. “Lactate is the report from yesterday.” As Bour described it, “It’s like a mission to Mars. Only the lab is not quiet.”
Science fiction wasn’t the half of it. During testing physiologists took blood samples and shouted commands, encouraging athletes to work through VO2 max tests or delivering data points to scientists peering at nearby computers.
The athletes bunked together in group houses, starting each morning with blood data, downloads of their sleep equipment, and self-reports on how they felt; each day ended with group meals and discussions of the day’s tests, with scientists explaining what they were measuring and athletes describing how it felt and asking for clarification.