The brain, biochemical processes, nutrition, gene structure, bodyparts, technology! There are so many items nowadays that are important for both the health and (peak) performance of the athlete. All of these elements are interrelated and everybody (with athletes at the forefront) is trying to optimize these in order to find the holy grail! We discuss 7 ways in the field of health and performance which are likely to gain traction in sports in the coming few years.
Athletes often at forefront of innovation in healthcare
Injuries and how to avoid them, medicine, rehabilitation, fatigue, food, sleep, supplements, prolonged peak performance levels. All of these have to do with the health and fitness levels of not only athletes but also you and me. There are many new ways and innovations that address these issues. As professional athletes are continuously aiming to get better, they often are at the forefront of these new innovations.
Sports healthcare and medicine extremely important
Health is for a professional athlete of vital importance. It determines if he will be able to perform to the max. Only then, he will realize his peak. For him or her, this works out in two main goals. Firstly how to get towards optimal health and fitness levels and secondly how to avoid injuries. By realizing these goals, the athlete will not only perform well but also be able to prolong and monetize his career.
Obviously in case he is employed with a clubteam, this will be valuable for team owners as well. In fact their investment will result in improved returns. Hence a lot of attention focuses on healthcare, medicine and innovative alternatives. Think of prevention through genomics, nutrigenomics, trackers and wearables, but also technologies which aim to alleviate pain and shorten the time of recovery.
Great news for society….
For society this should be seen as great news. You and I will benefit as much as the athlete as scientists will obtain more info on what is possible and what is not. Similar to Formula 1 being an incubator for new technology used in cars, athletes may be instrumental in finding solutions for health related issues. We discuss 7 interesting ways that could improve health and performance levels going forward.
1. Augmented Reality
Sports medicine and health is a field where Augmented Reality can be very useful. Think of athletes whose movements can be tracked by for example a hololens through which one can visualise what’s happening with the athlete’s joints and bones. By using this technique it will be possible to observe real time what’s happening with the movements of someone. If a player gets hit, you can analyse immediately what’s happening. If an athlete is rehabilitating after an injury, his movements and progress can be analysed.
With AR overlays you can see what a bone or joint is doing and where improvements can be realised. Artanim is such a company that is developing such an app. Watch the video below and you will understand immediately what I mean.
Also interesting to read: 10 great ways AR will impact the world of sports
What? What do you mean by neurocoaching? Meditation? Well, Meditation is just one of the forms of neurocoaching. It has proven over and over again that it is good for almost everything: whether it is for focus, sleep, the immune system, blood pressure, creativity or learning and much much more. Hence it should be of no surprise that there are an increasing number of athletes that are using meditation in training.
Visualisation is another one you see athletes do all the time. I am sure you can can recall golfers visualising their shots or skiers preparing themselves for a run by mentally visualising the course and movements. It does help! Some of you might remember the basketball experiment in which a group of basketball players were sitting in a chair while visualising freethrows. They realised the same improvement as the group that were actually making these freethrows on the court for real. It shows what mental training can do. I would say both meditating and visualisation are forms of neurocaching or braintraining.
But there is much, much more that you can do in order to improve your performance through neurocoaching. Mapping and optimizing the brain, that’s what we are talking about! Mind and body are interrelated. The brain steers the body as you know. Brain stimulation and rewiring the brain can really lead to a significant improvement in things like accuracy, the ability to learn, split decision making, focus, reaction time, endurance, power, movement etc.
In the end it is all about the brain and creating new neural pathways. Electrical stimulation can speed up learning and hence performance levels. There are many companies that are active in this field. They try to optimize the cooperation between body and brain in order to realise the ideal state for performance in specific sports. Notably, even the state of flow which so many athletes have experienced when realising their peak performance, can be realised in some cases. And don’t underestimate this. For example reaction times can go up by as much as 10% by using some of these techniques.
Sorry, I am elaborating a bit on this subject but this field is exceptionally interesting and still hugely underestimated in my view. It is worth a separate post in itself!
3. Sensors and wearables
Sensors and wearables are also an excellent way to track what is happening with your body. The stream of new applications can help both professional athletes as well as the amateurs like you and me. If there is one important area where sports can lead the way and make a difference, it is health!
Remember the AC Milan Lab at the beginning of this millenium? It aimed on extending the careers of its soccerplayers and on improving them. This was done by gathering tonnes of information on each player. This way injuries could be foreseen and prevented. It went as far as collecting data on whether the player had have sex or not and what the impact was. Milan was hugely successful with this. Nowadays many clubs and institutions are tracking their players and athletes by analyzing the data generated by sensors.
Athletes require a lot of their bodies and try to optimize their performances. Health is a prerequisite to realise this peak performance. Today’s sensors are able to measure body functions and biomechanics whether it is heart rate, body temperature, breathing, lung capacity and perspiration or the movement of muscles and joints.
This information provides extremely useful data to the athlete and his coach. Training load, health, fatigue levels, stress levels, potential injuries and even the mental state of the athlete can now be tracked. This not only will lead to optimum performance levels but also will take care of the health of an athlete and his prolonged performance. This increases potential returns of the athlete when expressed in money: prolonged careers, peak performances and fewer injuries mean higher value for your investment. Expect more to come! Sensors which are placed under your skin (yes, they exist already) or even inside your body. This will and already is a multi bln usd market.
Take for example the company ImeasureU. It provides a platform that quantifies body movement and workload. The Philadelphia 76ers use this platform to track the load of every step players take, from the time they are injured to their return to play. The Raptors experienced the highest number of injuries in 2012. After the introduction of sensors this number was turned around to the team with the least injuries! I am sure you can imagine the vast potential of opportunities related to health.
Also interesting to read: How sensors are positively transforming the world of sports
4. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence is all about big data and discovering patterns from this data. For sports medicine and health purposes this will be an extremely useful tool. Several of the tools discussed above can be translated into data and where there is data, Artificial Analysis comes to the rescue. It will be very interesting to see proof of what is working when, how and for whom. This way tailor made solutions for each individual can be produced in the future.
Physical health and fitness are of major importance to elite athletes. AI is already an important tool for many athletes and teams and it only will grow further in importance. Players undergo physical tests that use AI to analyze their fitness and health levels and to discover deviations in patterns. This way things like fatigue levels, heart rate variability (reducing the chance of cardiovascular mortality risk) can be discovered in time.
This data can also be important to amateur athletes. In this perspective the Sports Hub project is interesting as it is a platform designed to bring sports, fitness and health data of top athletes and recreational athletes together. This way sports data can be gathered and merged from different sources to discover correlations between athletic performance, nutrition, sleep and physical activities.
Interesting read: How AI is impacting the world of sports
A lot of people are talking about biohacking as of lately. Taking an icebath because it is good for your health? Biohacking! Intermittent fasting? Biohacking! Nootropics? Biohacking! Chemical injections? Biohacking! Yes it is somewhat of an all purpose container word. But what is it? The best definition of biohacking is probably:
Biological experimentation (as by gene editing or the use of drugs or implants) done to improve the qualities or capabilities of living organisms especially by individuals and groups working outside a traditional medical or scientific research environmentWebster dictionary
In contrast to computer hacking, which has a negative connotation, biohacking is aimed towards progress in the capabilities of the human body. The definition is pretty broad as it includes basically everything which can alter your inside and outside body (varying from implanted devices to changing your cell structure).
On the one hand you could say it is kind of do it yourself biology, on the other hand it is tinkering with your body and in some cases not without danger. Think of applying electricity to your muscles and brains or whatever. In any case you could say that these hackers concern people who are trying to find alternative ways to improve their performance and health.
The problem is that most of these hacks often are not scientifically proven. This doesn’t mean they don’t do the trick. In fact in some of the cases they seem to work quite well as I have experienced myself. Hence I believe biohacking is not to be neglected. I expect sports and society to pay more attention to this phenomenon, particularly if some of these hacks have scientific proof, as some of them no doubt will get.
For example, there are indications, also from a scientific view, that taking an icebath can be quite healthy for your body. This is also the case for intermittent fasting and high intensity training. These hacks have proven themselves by now and I have experienced myself the benefits for both my fitness level and health! Probiotics (yeast and bacteria that are good for you, particularly for your digestal system) also seem to have positive effects
Concluding, I would be the last to recommend to start experimenting with new alternative ways as long as it is either dangerous, or unhealthy to your body. Keep yourselves to the hacks that are safe and have proven themselves and let the experiments with the professional chosen to be hackers. Just keep a close eye on what works and what does not. I am sure this will also be the case in the world of sports.
6. Genomics and nutrigenomics
Let’s get real here! We are all different! We all have a different genetic footprint which determines who we are, what we look like, what our traits and characteristics are, our metabolism etc etc. Clearly It also determines to some extent our health and physical ability. For athletes as well as ourselves this is important and this is where genomics and nutrigenomics are coming in. Let’s first define what genomics actually is:
Genomics is the study of genes and their functionWHO
It should be of no surprise that with the help of genomics it can be determined which people have the potential to become elite athletes but also where the risks are when performing to the max. As such genomics can help in preventing injuries and how to exercise in order to make the risk of injury smaller. Again this should be positive news for both the athlete and the clubs.
Ok what about nutrigenomics then?
Nutrigenomics is the science studying the relationship between human genome, nutrition and health.
Each athlete and person has a different genetic structure, which has an impact on metabolism and absorption levels. Hence each person also responds differently to food. One size fits all nutritional guidelines therefore are not always the best solution for realizing peak performances. The so-called sporting meals should be history. Personalised nutrition based on your individual genetic profile should become the standard in the future. This should optimize health, body structure and peak performance levels.
7. 3D bodyparts
What to think of all the new 3D printing techniques? We are moving closer to damaged bodyparts to be replaced by 3D ones. Actually some successes have already been realised by bioscientists that were able to print artificial tissues in 3D helping to heal bone and cartilage typically damaged in sports-related injuries to knees, ankles and elbows. Apparently the all important key is to mimick the tissue that turns gradually from cartilage at the surface to bone (osteo) underneath. No doubt huge progress will be made in the coming few years.
Again, great news to athletes and clubowners! Where athletes get injured and in some cases see their careers in shambles, this will no longer be the case in the near future. It may even be the case that the bodypart they get back will be even better! Is this the arrival of the bionic athlete? In any case, the athlete will be at the forefront of this development again and humanity will benefit!
As you can see, there are lots of new developments and initiatives in sports medicine and healthcare which on the one hand should improve performances of athletes and on the other hand reduce and prevent injuries. Clearly this should be beneficial to both recreational and professional athletes as well as society as injury related costs should come down.
If you know of any other interesting future developments in the field of sports medicine and healthcare, please let me know or share below!