One of the biggest trends in health and fitness these days is wearables—wristbands that keep track of things like your total steps, heart rate, sleep cycle and calories burned. While that sounds pretty comprehensive, relying on a fitness tracker alone to measure your athletic performance can be dangerous.
Specifically, wearables fail to measure glycogen levels, which are a key component to injury prevention and overall health. Glycogen is stored in your muscles as energy. When your muscles are fatigued, your glycogen levels are low, and you’re more susceptible to injury.
That’s not to say I’m not a fan of wearables. They’re incredibly helpful devices. They just haven’t yet figured out a way to track glycogen levels in an efficient, helpful manner — something that should be at the top of your priority list as an athlete.
Glycogen Is Essential for the Body
Glycogen does a lot of amazing things for your body. It’s the chief carbohydrate storage form in muscles, providing a fundamental energy source for activity. Low muscle glycogen causes increased muscle breakdown, fatigue and a decreased ability to adequately perform, both cognitively and physically.
Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel. When you’re burning energy, you’re burning glycogen. And when the body runs out of glycogen, it scrambles to find and use glucose from other organs in a process called gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis is very taxing on your body, so save yourself the trouble and avoid depleting your glycogen reserves.
Maintaining normal levels of glycogen in your muscles is also a great way to prevent soft tissue injuries, optimize performance and maximize recovery. When your glycogen is depleted, you decrease your ability to stay aware. It’s as if you’ve told your body to throw in the towel for the day. Staying mentally and physically alert helps you execute exercises to their intended degree and prevent slipups that can lead to injury.
Boost Your Glycogen Levels
Now that we know the main benefits of glycogen, let’s go over three ways to make sure we have enough of it:
1. Get Plenty of Sleep
You’ve heard it a million times: Sleep helps your muscles recover. That’s because your muscles take this opportunity to replenish and store their glycogen. Wearables help you study your REM cycles and general sleep patterns, but you still don’t know how this has affected your glycogen levels.
RELATED: Sleep Guidelines for Athletes
2. Listen to Your Body
Many athletes make the mistake of relying solely on technology to tell them what’s going on with their bodies. Sometimes, we forget to listen to how we feel — and I would like to think that we know ourselves better than a wristband ever will.
If you feel depleted and fatigued, your glycogen levels are probably very low. Take this as a sign to refuel your body with healthy carbohydrates. Recovery and replenishment are serious business. Neglecting them could lead to chronic injuries.
3. Use Ultrasound Technology
You can use ultrasound technology to paint an accurate picture of your glycogen levels. This technology scans your muscles and provides you with a detailed glycogen data report in less than one minute. It also generates an individualized nutrition plan, which outlines recommended carbohydrate intake levels and helps you maximize your output and recovery plan.
For instance, if your scan reveals that you have low levels of glycogen, you can proactively adjust your diet to restore those levels. That will enable you to avoid fatigue, prevent injury and accomplish your fitness goals as quickly and safely as possible.
Knowing your body is key. Proceed with caution as the wearables trend continues its upward growth. Until fitness trackers can successfully measure glycogen levels, biomechanical variances, early signs of tissue and muscle damage, proper nutritional intake, and proper recovery methods, you’re missing a major piece of the fitness puzzle.
Stephen Kurtz currently serves as CEO of MuscleSound, a company that offers noninvasive, real-time ultrasound technology to help athletes make data-driven nutritional, performance, and injury prevention and management decisions based on their glycogen content levels.