Category: Sports Science

New tech, data and dashboards

I have been playing with new technology recently and wanted to share some of the experiences. Also, I have been looking at the usual issue of visualising data from multiple sources and identified few open sources/free resources which may be of interest for people training for specific events and/or coaches trying to look for solutions to help their athletes.

Let’s talk about technology first. I was able to try a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) few months ago and I found the experience very interesting and helpful in modifying some nutritional habits.

Thanks to https://www.veristable.com I received a free CGM and was able to use the VERI app to track my sugar levels for 14 days. [Disclaimer: I am not involved with a company and I have already disclosed I received the sensor and app for free as a trial user].

What is a CGM?

A continuous glucose monitoring system, or CGM for short, is a small device that continuously monitors your glucose levels in almost real time.

To use a CGM, you need to insert a small sensor the size of a coin, in your arm. The sensor has a tiny cannula penetrating the top layer of skin that is able to sample glucose concentration. An adhesive patch holds the sensor in place, allowing it to take glucose readings in the interstitial fluid (the fluid that surrounds cells in the body) throughout the day and night.

A small transmitter connected to the sensor allows the system to send real-time readings wirelessly to a mobile phone to display and record your blood glucose data. Some systems come with a dedicated monitor, and some now display the information via a smartphone app. 

If you want to see how you can wear such a technology, see the video below.

I did wear the sensor on my left arm.

Wearing the CGM sensor on the left arm

The app works really well and to sync data you just need to get your phone close to the sensor to download the data. I managed to use it while swimming (with a wetsuit since it was winter here, so the sensor was covered but it is water resistant), running, biking and/or in the gym when lockdown rules allowed.

Here are a few examples of how my glucose levels change with food

Classic Italian breakfast with Cappuccino and croissant triggers a bit of a higher glucose response
Sugary cereals and cappuccino (with no sugar) definitively need review.

I analysed a lot of food choices and also checked my levels on long rides playing a bit with my on bike nutrition. This is definitively a useful tool even if you are not diabetic if you are training for an endurance event and want to know more about optimising your nutrition, in particular in between training sessions or on long rides/runs.

If you want to read some science about it, this paper on CGM measurements during Ultramarathon is definitively a must read as well as this paper on CGM measurements and individual responses in exercise-induced hypoglycaemia.

Being exposed to the heat while training here in Qatar quite a lot, I also bought a Core Body Temperature Monitor. This is a thermal energy transfer sensor (details here https://corebodytemp.com/blogs/news/the-technology-behind-core-thermal-energy-transfer-sensors). I can see the data in real time on my Garmin bike computer or Garmin Fenix watch and it helps me with managing how I am coping in the heat (I don’t do well in the heat…). The kit was reviewed by DC Rainmaker before (link here so you can read the details), validation studies not there yet (here are links to the validation page of the company) and I plan to take a core temp pill to check it out in the next few weeks. It looks promising, however I would really like to see how it behaves with temperature change, also, quite expensive, but if accurate enough, it may be a good gauge on hot days.

Here is what happens on a 65Km ride in the heat with two water/cooling breaks (temperature reached 38degrees Celsius that day!).

Heart rate and Core temperature recorded in a 65Km ride, note the two water/cooling breaks at km32 and 45.

Finally, I have been looking at dashboard software solutions mostly to better visualise my data but also to look at options for remote monitoring of athletes.

The first is Intervals.ICU which integrates very well with Strava.

The other one is Runalyze, which I am using to look at my running activities. This dashboard/analytical tool offers some prognostic options (but as usual, not sure how good they are, will need more time and more running to really evaluate it, so wish me to stay injury free as long as possible to test it).

I have been playing with a few more, I will share them in my next post.

Stay tuned.

Recent work

This is a quick blog article to provide an update on some recent work I have done, hoping it is of interest for the readers.

First of all, with my Italian colleagues we have completed the ‘triplete‘ (as Mourinho would say) of publications analysing talent in athletics understanding and documenting transitions from youth to senior.

This was a big project that started few years ago after I presented some work on tracking athlete’s trajectories and the importance of learning and development in talent identification and support in Italy at the Atleticamente conference in Abano Terme. With my colleague Dr Gennaro Boccia from Torino we started to talk and planned the first study with the Italian database.

Since then, in total between Italian Athletes and World Competitors we have analysed 26,836 athletes (males and females) and have shown typical transition rates and progressions. The last effort was published last month on elite Throwers:

Elite Junior Throwers Unlikely to Remain at the Top Level in the Senior Category. Boccia G, Cardinale M, Brustio PR.Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2021 Mar 1:1-7. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2020-0699. Online ahead of print.PMID: 33647881

Sleep analysis and understanding of sleep patterns in young football players of Aspire was conducted as part of the routine sports science support but also to start developing performance optimisation strategies also targeting sleep in this cohort. This was part of an ongoing research project based on documenting the support work and the growth and maturation observations conducted in Aspire Academy in Doha.

An objective description of routine sleep habits in elite youth football players from the Middle-East.Lolli L, Cardinale M, Lopez E, Maasar MF, Marthinussen J, Bonanno D, Gregson W, Di Salvo V.Sleep Med. 2021 Apr;80:96-99. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2021.01.029. Epub 2021 Jan 23.PMID: 33588263

Finally, only few weeks ago, the first work of the big study conducted during the Doha 2019 World Athletics Championships was published on the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The paper is open access and can be downloaded below. It has already attracted a lot of interest and it represents on of the rare observations performed in real athletes at a major championship. More papers will be hopefully accepted in the next few months on more aspects of this work.


Hydration and cooling in elite athletes: relationship with performance, body mass loss and body temperatures during the Doha 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.
Racinais S, Ihsan M, Taylor L, Cardinale M, Adami PE, Alonso JM, Bouscaren N, Buitrago S, Esh CJ, Gomez-Ezeiza J, Garrandes F, Havenith G, Labidi M, Lange G, Lloyd A, Moussay S, Mtibaa K, Townsend N, Wilson MG, Bermon S.Br J Sports Med. 2021 Feb 12:bjsports-2020-103613. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103613. Online ahead of print.PMID: 33579722

Papers and research projects have not been the only activity here in Aspetar. We have a lot going on with daily clinical services as well. Also we do a lot of educational activities.

I have been hosting a Forum on “Training Methods and Assessment” for our Sports Medicine Collection Series where we had more than 800 online live attendees.

Had the pleasure to moderate an excellent webinar on the use of supplements in sport:

Quite a busy last few months with more to come.

What a year it has been.

Day 2 of 2021, I think we are all in the same place, thinking about the incredible challenges of 2020 and hoping that 2021 will bring back some sort of normality.

For me it has been quite an incredible year. I changed jobs the 1st of March of 2020 and in less than 10 days we started working from home. So, new team, new objectives, new job and trying to do it all from home. Definitively something nobody can teach you in any management course/degree. So there was a lot of learning happening ‘remotely’ and many difficult and challenging decisions to take in a short period of time. Not the way you dream of starting a new role, but you can only play with the cards you get given not with the ones you would like to have. Despite all this, work has been rewarding. I am in a great environment surrounded by very clever and passionate people and I have a great team, so despite all the difficulties, I am confident a lot can be achieved and I am definitively looking forward to a great 2021.

Research activities have continued, and most probably working from home has accelerated the production of manuscripts. The team in Aspetar managed to publish more than 100 papers in peer reviewed journals with some incredible resources for sports science and medicine practitioners. If you want to find out more, just go on PubMed on this link and you will see listed most Aspetar’s papers.

On a personal note, I published a number of papers from projects in few areas:

Injury and youth athletes

Martinez-Silvan, D., Wik, E. H., Alonso, J. M., Jeanguyot, E., Salcinovic, B., Johnson, A., & Cardinale, M. (2020). Injury characteristics in male youth athletics: a five-season prospective study in a full-time sports academy. Br J Sports Med. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-102373

Wik, E. H., Martinez-Silvan, D., Farooq, A., Cardinale, M., Johnson, A., & Bahr, R. (2020). Skeletal maturation and growth rates are related to bone and growth plate injuries in adolescent athletics. SCANDINAVIAN JOURNAL OF MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS, 30 (5), 894-903. doi:10.1111/sms.13635

Career Progressions and Talent Identification in Athletics

Boccia, G., Cardinale, M., & Brustio, P. R. (2020). Performance progression of elite jumpers: Early performances do not predict later success. SCANDINAVIAN JOURNAL OF MEDICINE & SCIENCE IN SPORTS. doi:10.1111/sms.13819

Boccia, G., Cardinale, M., & Brustio, P. R. (2020). World Class’ sprinters careers. Early Success does not guarantee success at adult age. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2020-0090

New Technologies/Training Monitoring

Jones, T. W., Shillabeer, B. C., & Cardinale, M. (2020). Skin Temperature, Training Load, and Subjective Muscle Soreness in Junior Endurance Athletes: A Case Study. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1-4. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2019-0748

Di Giminiani, R., Cardinale, M., Ferrari, M., & Quaresima, V. (2020). Validation of fabric-based thigh-wearable EMG sensors and oximetry for monitoring quadricep activity during strength and endurance exercises. Sensors, 20 (17), 1-13. doi:10.3390/s20174664 (this work was supported by an ESA grant with Ohmatex).

A Systematic Review (part of Alex Natera’s PhD).

The Effect of High Volume Power Training on Repeated High-Intensity Performance and the Assessment of Repeat Power Ability: A Systematic Review. AO Natera, M Cardinale, JWL Keogh – Sports Medicine, 2020

These studies are all the results of ongoing collaborations and projects which started years ago and will still produce meaningful papers once analyses and acceptances will be completed. So, there is more to come, as always, stay tuned.

I managed also to complete a book chapter for this exciting book which was just announced edited by Dr. Lorena Torres and Dr Duncan French and published by Human Kinetics (link to details here).

NSCA's Essentials of Sport Science

It is always a privilege to be asked to contribute to books like this one, and I am grateful for the opportunity to put on paper some of my past and current experiences and learnings on how to develop meaningful scientific support frameworks. The book is amazing, and I am looking forward to receive a copy so I can read the amazing chapters in it!

This year I learnt a lot about the importance of communicating science and the pandemic of ‘anti-science’ and absolute non-sense that circulates on the Internet. Reading the sensationalist and utter non-sensical information around COVID was an eye opener on how dangerous bad science is. Also, I think in our field there is now a lot of misinformation, ‘guruism‘, nonsense being constantly communicated to big up some egos and promote commercial enterprises and self-promotion (at a price). This is not going away sadly and I think academics need to do more in communicating science better and make it accessible to everyone as well as educating students to develop critical skills to appraise information and deliver knowledge to client/athletes/coaches. If we don’t do that as a community, others with no qualifications/knowledge will and we know full well the results are not going to be good!

On this topic, I am very humbled to be involved in the World Athletics’ Global Athletics Coaching Academy Board and I hope to provide a meaningful contribution to coaching developments in Athletics and a new approach to coach education.

On the personal front, it has been a challenge not to be able to travel this year. However, I managed to keep in touch with many friends and family around the World thanks to various videoconferencing tools. It has been also an opportunity to catch-up with people I had not contact with for years and I think the pandemic helped us reconnecting with more meaningful things and with friends we were disconnected from. Sadly, the pandemic also caused grief. Few colleagues and friends are not with us anymore, and this reminds us all of how precious life is and the fact that we should never take it for granted.

I still keep being active and I managed to overcome some injuries (as well as generate a few new ones!), but I was very happy to resume some Triathlon competitions after months of ‘Zwifting’ Indoor. You can follow my Strava efforts here. If you are in Qatar, you are most likely to see me on the wonderful Olympic Cycling Track or swimming in the sea. Training continued during lockdown and during restrictions with indoor sessions and/or training on a balcony. However, we are now able to train outside in a safe manner and I am making the most of the beautiful weather we have in Qatar.

2021 is here now, and the next few months I will be very busy with many projects/activities in Aspetar and with many collaborating institutions and I am looking forward to a year full of learning, opportunities and more chances to develop as well as a return to ‘normality’ and to possibility to travel.

I wish all the readers of this blog the best for 2021. We all deserve a much better year than 2020!