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Ingestible tech is helping Canadian athletes train for Tokyo’s heat at 2020 Olympics

Athletes and their coaches can learn how to prevent overheating with the aid of a computer in a capsule

Much has been written about the extreme heat and humidity conditions expected at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. For Canadian athletes, knowing how to stay cool during competition could be as simple as swallowing a pill.

An ingestible electronic device developed by a French company called Body Cap, which looks like a cold capsule, measures body temperature at 30-second intervals and will store the measurements for up to 16 hours. The data can be downloaded via bluetooth, using a handheld device held within a metre of the athlete’s stomach. According to sports scientist Trent Stellingwerff, Director of Performance Solutions at the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific, such data is extremely useful in helping athletes know how to effectively cool themselves at the world championships in Doha this year and in Tokyo next year.

Photo: BodyCap

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As race walker Evan Dunfee of Richmond, BC explains in the video, in very warm conditions athletes will pre-cool themselves with ice towels before they work out or race, as well as cooling with water and sponges during the race. The data from the device shows exactly how effective that is. (Dunfee is the 2019 national champion in the 20K race walk, and 2015 Pan Am Games gold medallist.)

For optimal measuring, the capsule needs to leave the stomach and move into the intestine, so the athlete swallows it four hours before the test begins. Dunfee tested the device three times during last year’s NACAC meet in Toronto, yielding many hours of data, and more test sessions will take place over the next few months.

Photo: BodyCap

The technology has been available since 2007, though the bluetooth capability is a more recent enhancement. Each pill costs $70, and not re-usable. (After a few hours, the athlete simply passes the pill in their stool.) Because it’s relatively expensive, the capsule is being tested on endurance athletes and those expected to medal at the world championships and Olympics.