Image source: Garmin

Sweat lactate: The new frontier in fitness monitoring

A team of researchers from Tokyo University of Science (TUS) in Japan have made an interesting breakthrough. They’ve created a wearable device that is capable of measuring workout intensity through sweat analysis. This novel technology, which was recently published in the journal ACS Sensors, provides a new option for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to manage their training.

The science of sweat

Sweat tells us a lot about our health and fitness. It reveals hydration levels, electrolyte balance, and overall physiological state. Lactate is one of the key biomarkers in sweat. It’s a reliable measure of exercise intensity. By looking at lactate in sweat, we can estimate the amount of lactic acid in the blood. This can, in turn, help predict muscle fatigue.

The problem with sweat monitoring

Some sweat monitoring devices do currently allow for the continuous monitoring of indicators such as lactate. They use advanced microfluidics technology. This technology moves tiny amounts of sweat to small chemical sensors. These sensors then send their measurements wirelessly in real time.

However, one typical issue with such devices is that their microfluidic channels tend to trap air bubbles in sweat. When these bubbles cover the electrodes of the sensor, measurements are disrupted, interfering with the continuous monitoring of the target biomarker.

A novel solution

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Isao Shitanda has a solution. They’ve created a unique sweat lactate sensor whose measurements aren’t affected by air bubbles. The wearable device has a simple layered structure which uses a typical lactate oxidase sensor. This sensor is attached with double-sided tape to a silicone polymer microfluidic system.

The key innovation in the proposed design is the use of a larger-than-usual sweat reservoir.

“By increasing the length of the reservoir in the microfluidic channel, a space of approximately four microliters was created for trapping any air bubbles that infiltrate the device, thereby preventing them from contacting the electrodes of the sensor,” explains Dr. Shitanda.

Sweat lactate sensor

Real-life applications

This wearable device is more than just a scientific breakthrough; it also has potential real-world uses. Because the proposed lactate sensor’s microfluidic system is made of a soft, flexible, and non-irritating material, it might be used to continually monitor lactate levels in sweat, which could be useful in sports and medicine.

“Wearable lactate sensors may become useful condition management tools in sports such as soccer and basketball, allowing team managers to know when it’s best to replace a player,” remarks Dr. Shitanda.

This technology could also be valuable for personal fitness enthusiasts. They might benefit from real-time feedback on exercise intensity, helping them to optimise workouts.

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Wearable sensors will likely play an increasing role in training management and healthcare monitoring in the coming years. No doubt, they will grow more capable and reliable. Only time will tell what the future holds, but one thing is certain: the way we understand and monitor our health is changing, and it’s all thanks to innovative technologies like this one.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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