Blood Unlocks Performance Insights for Female Athletes
For elite athletes, the margin between winning and losing is constantly getting smaller. With the help of technology, athletes are empowered to learn about their bodies to recover faster, compete better, and execute more precisely. Athletes now track nutrition, use blood tests, and monitor sleep to gauge their human performance. This market is growing fast and the Sports Innovation Lab tracks more than 600 companies in the Quantified Athlete space. Confidence in these new tools is reflected in growing investment from private equity firms and other investors.
Human Performance tools highlight ways to boost performance beyond training. Human performance companies that help athletes collect and analyze their data. However, it doesn’t stop there, these technologies also provide insights into how to train better.
Human performance technologies fall into one of three major buckets:
Collecting technology. Using cameras and sensors on the body there is a seemingly endless supply of devices to track an athlete during training. Metrics include heart rate variability, steps, and more sport specific metrics allow for coaches to better understand their athletes on the field. What happens away from the field is coming into focus as well. Companies like WHOOP and Apple measure how athletes sleep and recover, shedding light on the impact of what happens away from the field of play.
Analyzing technology. Companies with experience in this domain include Kinduct, Kitman Labs, Sportlogiq, and wrnch AI. These companies take disparate data sets and combine them to create a data stream that can identify events (like a home run or a goal) and can learn from patterns in the data to alert fans when something new or exciting is happening. But these platforms require immense amounts of data to train their systems, which is why Google, IBM, and Amazon are key players in this market. Amazon has demonstrated its AI capabilities through live MLB Statcast, highlights from NASCAR’s archived footage, and more. These larger companies may not have as much sport specific experience, but they have the depth, experience, and breadth to learn quickly and become a threat.
Delivering technology. Delivery technology puts the data in context and in the hands of the athlete or coach. It could take form in a cognitive training application, a strength and conditioning app, or an injury prevention app.
The Market Is Pressure Testing New Approaches Case Study: Orecco
Women are more than three and a half times more likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) than men. There are a number of potential anatomical and physiological reasons for this. Ligament laxity has been pointed to as one potential contributing factor, this is female hormones, which fluctuate in a cyclical manner throughout the menstrual cycle, have been found to influence ligament laxity, Therefore at certain times in the menstrual cycle, laxity can increase. This is one of the many reasons why, for female athletes, the impact of hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle can have a serious impact on both training and competition.
Orreco is a young company and a Sports Innovation Lab client. They sit on our Athlete Data Leadership Board. Recently, their CEO Brian Moore shared with us how his companies technology is equipping female athletes with the tools they need to understand how to minimize injury risks and maximize training at every point in their menstrual cycle.
Training regimens and tools have often been designed with men in mind. However, it wasn’t always possible to quantify the impact on female performance. According to Orreco’s Research scientist Dr. Georgie Bruinvels and product development manager Grainne Conefrey, nutritional, psychological and physiological factors vary throughout the menstrual cycle. With this knowledge in mind, the sport scientists at Orreco are able to recommend different types of training, and nutrition depending on what part of the cycle women are in. Dr. Bruinvels says, "risk of certain injuries, like anterior-cruciate ligament injuries or other soft tissue injuries has been found to increase in the first half of the menstrual cycle when oestrogen levels increase to a peak just before ovulation". Armed with this data, coaches and athletes can make better informed decisions on when to push harder and when to pull back on training.
Among the FitrWoman and FitrCoach early-adopters is the US Women’s National Soccer team. Dawn Scott, the USWNT’s fitness coach worked with Dr. Bruinvels to optimize the team’s recovery and nutrition, and give the athletes better insights into what was happening inside their bodies. Dr. Bruinvels made clear that there is no reason why a woman who is on her period shouldn’t be able to perform at her best, providing she is armed with the information she needs to adjust her habits accordingly.
Conefrey and Bruinvels are working on integrating more metrics into their app to give athletes an even more complete picture of what’s happening with their bodies. Integrating data from wearables that track sleep, for example, would help ensure an objective input, where a manually entered response could be less accurate. They say that the holy grail would be to create an experience that is even more responsive to the athletes than the app is now by providing users with personalized insights based from day to day. Technology is helping to demystify, educate, and break down barriers of communication between athletes and coaches, even on topics that were once considered taboo.
Conclusion: Human performance tools highlight previously unexplored opportunities for athletes to improve their performance. Properties will first test the point solutions as they build their human performance stack to protect their investments: the athletes. There are a number of ways to track athlete data, and for different types of athletes, different data should be collected. When the best in breed emerge, expect that they will consolidate and/or form partnerships that make purchasing off the shelf solutions an option. Think of how you customize a car or a pair of shoes online: you put in your specifics, pick the upgrades, and click purchase. The human performance stack should reflect the needs of the individual athlete, the team, the sport, where no detail is too small or should be overlooked.
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