Popular Athletic brand Nike is researching wearables that can detect glycogen in muscle tissue using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).
According to a patent approved this month, researchers at Nike are exploring the efficacy of using a wearable device that can be configured to emit wavelengths between 900 and 1350 nanometers to sense hydration and glycogen parameters in muscle tissue.
A processor determines the glycogen level of muscle tissue as a function of hydration of the muscle tissue based on a relationship between backscatter light from the muscle tissue as detected by the second light detector (1350 nm) and backscatter light from non-muscle tissue as detected by the first light detector (900 nm).
Why glycogen and hydration levels matter for athletes
Glycogen and/or hydration level of the muscle layer may indicate muscle fatigue and muscle injury (and, by extension, muscle recovery from injury).
For example, acute reductions in skeletal muscle glycogen (resultant during intense or prolonged exercise) are mechanistically linked to impaired muscle contractile function and overall muscular fatigue.
Non-invasive techniques for measuring tissue parameters of muscle tissue have been developed, including various ultrasound techniques.
However, ultrasound techniques rely on equipment that is typically immobile, complicated to use, and may require gels to limit air gaps between the ultrasound transducer and the skin.
As depicted in this research, Nike’s wearable is an armband that can be worn by athletes and endurance junkies and could provide continuous monitoring of hydration levels and, more importantly, muscle tissue glycogen levels.
Other companies research efforts on wearables for athletes
Nike is not the first or only company to explore the potential of a product offering designed for niche athletes.
WHOOP, a popular wearable, has also bought patents to explore the area of muscle tissue oxygenation detection.
Zephyr‘s wearable platform consists of a compression shirt (or a sports bra) to hoist a GPS and a biomodule. Zephyr™’s biomodule can directly measure six key inputs, including heart rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability, posture, and impact.
Catapult sports and Firstbeat are other companies that provide specialized monitoring services for elite athletes.
It is hard to tell if it will actually evolve into a product with any approved patent.
The key takeaway is that applications such as Near-infrared spectroscopy and Raman Spectroscopy are finally beginning to take shape in the area of wearables and wearable science.
It’s only a matter of time that we will have smartwatches and other wearables with advanced spectrometers to detect an entire variety of parameters that can inform an athlete’s health and aid with the health monitoring aspects of a common person.