“Did you just walk in here with that Topo Chico?” I asked the dude who casually walked in the room. “Seriously?” I was feeling surly and ‘that dude’ happened to be Dustin Freckleton, Founder and CEO at BSX Technologies. I wasn’t more than 10 minutes into my 1.5 hour dehydration study, but I was already counting the minutes until I, too, could imbibe on that hipster carbonated beverage from Mexico.
BSX Technologies is an Austin-based wearable tech company on the forefront of developing consumer driven products that address some of the most complex needs for athletic performance. Their first product, the BSX Insight, is a calf-sleeve and sensor that measures lactate threshold, along with power and heart rate zones, without going through invasive laboratory testing and multiple blood draws. The data is clear, concise and incredibly useful if applied properly in training and racing.
Most recently, BSX launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for their newest product, The LVL Hydration Monitor. Let me tell you, as an endurance athlete, knowing how much water I’m losing per hour during a race can make all the difference. Sometimes (and I do mean “sometimes”) I’ll do my own sweat ratio test and weigh myself before and after a workout to see if I’m in the hole. Of course, heat and humidity differences can completely change that rate on any given day, so while sweat ratio tests are important, you can never really discern what you’re losing during a race…until now.
Enter the LVL bracelet.
Over the past several months, the BSX Technologies team has recruited hundreds of athletes to enter into their 105 degree sweat room for testing and trials. The protocols have varied slightly, but the gist is the same: no hydration for an extended period of time while riding in extreme heat and humidity. My test was approximately 1.5 hours of riding time with breaks at regular intervals to collect sweat samples, saliva samples and urine samples. (Thank goodness they let me get off the bike and head to the ladies room for that one). I also had to weigh-in each time without clothing.
Whitley and Emily, the Data and Research Scientists, strapped several pieces of monitoring equipment to my wrists, arms and chest while my nerves and nerdy sense of humor kicked in as I tried to alleviate the fears of what may happen, especially in front of an audience of three-to-four people whose job it is to collect my spit, pee and sweat for the next 90 minutes. (They’ve been at this for a while and know that every test subject comes in with a healthy dose of nerves and trepidation). Earlier that morning, I had swallowed a core temperature pill so I had another monitor in the back of my shorts keeping track of my insides. My bike and I were strapped onto the Wahoo Kickr and all of the monitoring devices registered on the monitor in front of me, truly a data geek’s fantasy. Let’s do this!
Initial Weigh-In and Start of Test (52.4kg or approximately 115 pounds)
I came in relatively fasted. No food or water for two hours previous to my 11:00am appointment. The testing protocol itself wasn’t taxing. That is to say, there were no hard efforts or prolonged periods at threshold. The goal of this particular study wasn’t to exhaust me. In fact, the goal was actually to keep my heart rate and effort levels relatively steady for long periods of time to monitor the effects of the prolonged hydration deficit.
“Are you a heavy sweater?” asked another BSX Technologies team member. “Actually, I do pretty well in the heat and humidity,” I said with total false bravado. “I’ve done Ironman Texas twice and did pretty good relative to some others out there.” (defense mechanism #Humblebrag)
Within a few minutes, I was sweating, but my heart rate was very comfortable in the high 120s-low 130s. “I could keep this up all day,” I sheepishly thought to myself. “This isn’t so bad, plus I get an IV at the end! Hell yeah!”
Spit into the tube and sweat into another. That was the routine at regular intervals. After the initial segment, I hopped off the bike, stripped completely naked behind a privacy screen and weighed myself to see if I was losing water weight. Prior to that, however, I had to walk down the hall looking like a sweaty Frankenstein, monitors and all, and pee in a cup that I then paraded back down the hall into the office. That was only slightly embarrassing the first time. The rest of the times, I could’ve cared less about the “walk of shame” for science.
The hardest part, or should I say the most appalling part, was having to peel off the drenched cycling clothes for the naked weigh-in only to put them right back on again. It’s bad enough to be sweaty, naked and forced to stand on a scale. It’s another level of humility to try to get those same clothes back on again. They were heavy, drenched and smelly, but for the sake of consistency, they had to come back on for future weigh-ins. Ladies, only you can understand the energy-consuming horror and frustration of putting on a sweaty sports bra over a body that is already dripping wet.
The next segment was 25 minutes long at an easy 100 watts. Gradually, my heart rate started creeping up throughout this segment (see red line) as my mind started to dim ever so slightly. I was counting the minutes until I could get off the bike because it would produce the smallest reprieve from the heat and humidity in the room. My power wasn’t increasing, but my heart rate was. What would normally be a steady and easy Zone 1 effort was climbing up to a Zone 3 region. I was unconsciously working harder to keep up with this effort and started negotiated some bargaining tactics with myself. “Slow your cadence and your heart rate may decrease,” I thought. This is great, but whenever I would slow my cadence, it became more difficult to keep turning over the pedals.
“Six minutes to go in this first round. Holy shit. I’m going to have to go through this twice. Focus on the TV. Don’t get too fidgety. What I wouldn’t do for a freaking glass of water right now. I can’t believe that dude walked in here with a crisp Topo Chico. Talk to Emily and Whitley. They’ll help pass the time. Wait. Don’t. That takes energy. The IV is coming. The IV is coming.”
The last two minutes of the first round felt like an eternity, but the second it was over, I sat up on my bike and admired the puddle of sweat beneath me. I attempted to give spit samples, but my saliva was starting to resemble laundry detergent foam.
Back to the restroom I went for another pee sample (read: trickle). I’m surprised I didn’t need an escort because I was pretty lightheaded walking down the generic hallway, sweat dripping from my body like a wet dog. Hell, I was probably panting like one too. I know I felt like one because even the clean toilet water looked refreshing for a sip. Don’t worry. I didn’t. But I thought about it.
I’m sure the other office tenants just love testing day at BSX.
Naked Weigh-In at the Half-Way Point: Just Over 51kg or 112.5 pounds. Damn, that didn’t take long. Ugh. Do I have to put these nasty clothes back on? Yep. You volunteered for this, sweetheart. I was getting testy with myself.
The second segment was the same as the first. I’ve heard of insatiable hunger, but is there a such thing as insatiable thirst? Or ravenous thirst? If so, I had it. The second round was all about mental focus. It was evident how much dehydration not only affected my physical capabilities (things just felt harder), but also my mental capacities (I couldn’t process a major decision if I tried). Every now and then, staff members would drop in the room to see how the testing was going and I welcomed any distraction. Any crack of the door would let in cool air for a split-second and I relished those fleeting moments. Visions of Topo Chico and La Croix were dancing in my head. I was no longer holding aero position, but, instead leveraging power in the uprights. In the last few minutes, my friend Tammy came in to see how I was doing. I think I had a conversation with her. I know I tried to sound cheery, but I was cranky, thirsty and somewhat nauseous. When it was over, I put my head down on my aerobars and waited for my heart rate to settle and the room to stop spinning.
Final pee sample and weigh in. Just over 49.5 kg or 109 pounds. Good Lord. About 7 pounds lost in 90 minutes of light aerobic work. Is there any pee left? Barely. The hard part was over and all I had to do now was pedal my bike at a very low intensity while receiving an IV drip for the next hour. I’m surprised they got a vein, but being stuck by a needle never felt so lovely because the end result was two liters of fluid back into my body. During that hour, while I remained incredibly thirsty the entire time, my energy levels increased, my brain regained focus and my power started to come back. Wow. You know how wilting flowers can flourish back to life with just one small rainfall? Yeah. that was me. Your average daisy.
Once it was all over and and I toweled off, weighed in one final time (back up to just over 51kg) and got out of those nasty clothes, I walked out of the heat cave and was immediately handed the best Topo Chico of my life.
For more information on the LVL Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lactate-threshold/lvl-the-first-wearable-hydration-monitor
Featured at OutsideOnline.com: http://www.outsideonline.com/2114696/device-could-revolutionize-how-we-monitor-hydration