Supersapiens Glucose-Monitoring Technology For Diabetics and More

By Andrea Champredonde

If you are diabetic, you may have heard of Supersapiens glucose monitoring. But this technology isn’t just for diabetics. It provides real-time blood glucose levels to help athletes and coaches perfect or fine-tune any fuelling strategy during exercise, pre-workout meals and post-exercise recovery.

In today’s world of bike metrics (power, watts, VO2) and the corresponding devices created to measure them, Supersapiens has levelled the playing field for diabetics and other riders and athletes interested in the performance gains it can provide. So, what’s all the buzz? Let’s find out.

What is it? 

Supersapiens, by Abbott Labs, is a company that created a compact blood glucose sensor applied directly to the skin called the “Freestyle Libre” sensor. It was first introduced to the public in 2014 so diabetics wouldn’t have to prick their fingers to get a reliable blood glucose reading. It has attracted a much broader audience since.

The founder, Phil Southerland, brought Supersapiens to life. He is an avid cyclist who has had Type 1 Diabetes since childhood. Athletes suffering from diabetes were hindered in achieving elite-athlete levels because of the associated health complications. He wanted to change that and Supersapiens was the answer.

About the sensor

The compact sensor is white with a transparent underside. It is a mere 5 mm thick, just enough to house a microcircuit board, battery, some memory and an NFC chip to relay accurate real-time blood glucose levels through Bluetooth technology. A scant wire, barely thicker than a strand of hair, protrudes from its centre. After a (mostly) pain-free application process with a specially designed applicator, it is this thin wire that penetrates the skin to measure subcutaneous glucose levels via interstitial fluids.

Don’t worry about the sensor coming off, and it’s IPX7 rated. It sticks to you even if you sweat profusely or take it into water up to 1 m deep for 30 minutes. It’s designed for 14 days of continuous wear. But if in doubt or if your sport involves routine physical contact with others, a larger second patch is optional. The sensor memory handles up to 8 hours of data. If you sleep over 8 hours, lapses in data are possible but blood glucose levels are the most stable as you slumber. Any potential gaps would not make a sizable difference to recorded results.

How does it work? 

Once the sensor and wire are in place on your upper arm, it connects to an app on your smartphone via Bluetooth. Available for free for both iOS and Android, the app uses your phone’s NFC proficiency, similar to going contactless with card payments, to collect the training data you need to tweak your fuelling and nutritional program.

Minute-by-minute readings are displayed on the “Live” tab inside the app. Another option is to scan the sensor’s NFC chip with your smartphone once done with exercise. It’s up to the user to align events such as mealtime, sleeping or work hours over the date timeline.

Onboard bicycle computers, like some Garmin and Wahoo devices, show values in real time on your on-screen display or associated app. Supersapiens also integrates with TrainingPeaks and Apple Health but the list of harmonised devices is continually growing. A separate wrist wearable they call the “Energy Band” is available to display your glucose data without the need of your phone or another screen.

This technology is currently banned by the UCI during competition. They believe the information it provides can change the outcome of a race, so use it outside of events to define, improve or completely change your current nutritional program, on and off the bike.

Why is the information so valuable? 

Wearing one is like having a “molecular lab on your arm”. It provides an inside view of how a body reacts to different fuel types during pre-workout meals, exercise and recovery. In today’s world of professional cycling, where marginal gains make the difference, these sensors are on the arms of pro riders from UCI World Teams like Ineos, Jumbo–Visma, and Canyon//SRAM.

The collected data is invaluable for riders, nutritionists and coaches alike, providing daily insight and accurate clues to understanding how efficiently an athlete breaks down the fuel they consume, turning it into usable energy for muscles and normal body function.

Carbohydrates metabolise into glucose and fructose before being diffused to vital organs and muscles. When we eat, blood glucose levels go up. Any energy not needed immediately is stored in muscles and the liver as insulin for later use. Insulin is a hormone used to transfer sugars from the bloodstream into our cells for energy.

When blood glucose levels drop, the liver releases stored glucose (blood sugar) back into the bloodstream to be used by our muscles to maintain function and physical effort. The body reacts to the needs of working muscles during exercise to provide a constant and balanced source of glucose in order to maintain optimal physical performance.

You are what you eat

Bodies can only provide and store energy based on the fuel we give them. Everybody decides when and how much to eat based on hunger signals, guided by what they know about nutrition and how it affects their body. The problem is, we don’t always get it right, which means inconsistent glucose levels when we may need it the most. Who hasn’t bonked?

With Supersapiens, you can actually see how our exercise and food-eating habits affect our bodies and energy level throughout the day. Pay special attention to when and why glucose levels drop, as it represents a decline in physical performance. Something to be avoided, particularly during competition.

What do you do with the data? 

Through the Supersapiens app and your skills of observation, you can chart and understand what foods are best consumed to give you the most sustainable and stable energy. Their homepage includes tutorials on understanding the collected data and how to use it to your advantage to achieve your goals.

There are plenty of videos online to accompany you on your journey, too. If science-speak isn’t your thing, share your results with a coach or a nutritionist to make the most of this technology.

Cost and takeaway 

While this technology is attractive, the associated costs might not fit everyone’s budget. A two-sensor starter pack, enough for one month, (28 days) costs €150. The larger the quantity purchased, the more affordable the price. Subscriptions are available in 10-week, 14-week and 18-week training programs.

If you are looking to take your training to the next level, Supersapiens can give you valuable data and understanding of how your body metabolises what you eat before, during and after your workouts. Knowing what to eat and when can help you perform at your best or give you the marginal gains you have been looking for to take you to the next level.