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With the creation of its pioneering glucose monitoring system, Supersapiens is redefining training and the achievement of optimum results for athletes of all abilities. Already in use by world-renowned sports stars, Health Tech World discusses its impact and potential with co-founder Fitzalan Crowe

 

While the importance of managing glucose intake is now being more widely realised in sport, for Phil Southerland, the importance of doing so in everyday life has been there since before he can remember. 

Having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at only seven months old, he has pushed boundaries in what could be achieved since childhood, overcoming the odds to become a professional cyclist and blaze a trail for what can be achieved with careful management of glucose. 

His approach is now the inspiration for the venture taking the fitness world by storm, Supersapiens, which offers clarity on fuel levels to give athletes insight into how best to fuel their workouts, and how to enable individuals to find their peak glucose performance zone to deliver optimum results. 

Through the use of Abbott’s Libre Sense glucose biosensor, real-time data is delivered via bluetooth to a smartphone – or the soon to be launched Supersapiens Energy Band, which gives constant visibility to glucose levels and can be worn on the wrist or attached to a bike’s handlebars – to enable personalised analysis of energy levels, gains and recovery. 

Launched last year and already used by many of the world’s leading names in sport – from Lewis Hamilton to Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, with scores of Olympians making use of the Supersapiens system in their preparation for Tokyo – its glucose monitoring and insight is using science to redefine the potential of athletes at all levels. 

“We believe everything we do has to be based on science,” says Supersapiens co-founder Fitzalan Crowe.

“We are conducting research as we go, the data learnings we have seen so far have been game changing. This is absolutely at the cutting edge of science and we’re excited about where it is taking us.

“One of the most exciting areas is in women. Our menstrual cycle changes weekly and our glucose response changes on a week-to-week basis too. Previously, research into female athletes has been considered too complex, but we’re leading new learnings into this area, which is really significant. We are seeing the sky as the limit with this research.”

The roots of Supersapiens and its sector-changing work began with Phil, the US serial entrepreneur who found a love of cycling as a child, despite his diabetes – “he wanted to eat a Snickers bar and had two choices: wait until his insulin kicked in or go ride his bike for two hours—Phil picked the Snickers bar and the bike,” says Fitzalan – which then took him into the domain of elite sport. 

He first started exploring continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) in 2006 through a research trial with Abbott at the Race Across America, which saw his team earn a second-place finish. The following year, using the newly-created glucose monitor, they won and set a new record. 

By 2009, Phil recognised the impact glucose data could have for athletes during exercise and applied for the conceptual patent to relay glucose data to a bike’s computer or head unit.

He then went on to found Team Novo Nordisk, the first team to have all athletes with Type I diabetes, in December 2012. 

“It took years and several different companies trying to make it work, but it was Chip Hawkins at Wahoo Fitness that finally was able to display glucose on a bike computer,” says Fitzalan.  

“Immediately, the riders at Team Novo Nordisk started seeing improvements in their results thanks to having constant visibility into their glucose. Proud of this advancement, Phil was showing his head unit displaying his live glucose to everyone and athletes kept saying, ‘I’m not diabetic but I do struggle with fuelling—I’d use that’. 

“At professional and amateur level, fuelling during exercise is clearly a problem and for the first time, there was a true solution based on visibility and science.

“He realised then maybe this isn’t just something for people with diabetes.” 

Again working with Abbott, the medtech giant which had supported him since 2006, Supersapiens was launched to enable continuous glucose monitoring for athletes through the use of the Abbott Libre Sense Glucose Sport Biosensor. 

The biosensor enables analysis of a person’s glucose levels, which are then transmitted to the app, allowing users to chart their progress and performance levels with levels of accuracy and insight never previously possible. 

“Supersapiens was designed by athletes for athletes, but instead of this being purely for high-performance competitors, we see every person as an athlete,” says Fitzalan. 

“If a person wants to do their first 5k or 10k, it takes the guess work out of training. Through visibility, people can start seeing the impact going for a walk after a meal has on glucose. There is a lot of learning and behaviour changes that can come as a result once someone can see their individual glucose response to food and exercise. People can start to make informed decisions based on data about what they want to eat.

“Through this live data, you can set goals and also make adjustments. Every hour you can see where you are, and then you can look at your overall exposure throughout the day. By having this information, you can decide if you want to adjust your snack or dinner to help you achieve your glucose exposure goal.”

Having been in development by Supersapiens’ fast-growing team for some time – there are now 80 people in the business – the company launched in early 2020, just as the pandemic hit. 

“I don’t think we could say it was advantageous to launch in a pandemic with a business like ours. All of a sudden, people didn’t have anything to train for, there were no events and they kept being cancelled and pushed back,” says Fitzalan. 

“But now, our sales are growing every week, day after day we’re progressing. The outlook is so good for us. I think with people having to sit at home for the past 16 months, we have gotten to know ourselves and our bodies and hopefully now prioritise taking better care of ourselves. 

“We have an amazing team, some of the smartest people working with us, and it’s not just a job for any of us. We all obsessively monitor our glucose and by knowing minute by minute, hour by hour information, I think almost all of us have improved as athletes based on information glucose visibility gives us.

“We’re all athletes and none of us have been able to compete for 18 months, so we are all looking forward to having a lot of fun and celebrating all the hard work that has gone into Supersapiens by finally getting to do events!”

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