Sports drink vendor Gatorade is the latest to take a run at the connected fitness consumer. The PepsiCo brand launched today a sweat-tracking wearable patch and accompanying fitness monitoring app platform designed to help athletes track their workouts, hydration, salt concentration and other fitness-relevant metrics.
It's a concept that the brand first teased nearly five years ago before formally announced a partnership with Northwestern University and spinoff lab Epicore in 2018. Called the Gx Sweat Patch, the one-time use wearable is worn on the forearm during exercise to collect measurements and inform personalized fitness and nutrition recommendations.
"The Gx Sweat Patch is the first of its kind soft, wearable, microfluidic patch," Roozbeh Ghaffari, CEO and cofounder of Epicore Biosystems and a research professor at Northwestern University's Biomedical Engineering Department, told MobiHealthNews in an email.
"The device consists of microchannels that capture tiny amounts of sweat for colorimetric analysis of key biomarkers, including sweat rate, sweat loss and NaCl composition. To enable real-time performance insights, the Gx Sweat Patch uses custom algorithms on a smartphone app developed by Epicore in partnership with Gatorade."
To transfer readings from the patch to Gatorade's Gx app, users will scan the patch itself using their smartphone's camera, Ghaffari continued.
"The Gx app uses this image data, along with weight, sex, workout type and the environment, to create a personalized sweat profile along with recommendations about fluid and electrolyte intake needs," he said. "These algorithms and recommendations build on several years of research, including a large scale (n = 300+ athletes) published study conducted with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute."
Gatorade said that its iOS app works on the iPhone and on Apple Watch, and integrates with other fitness platforms like Apple Health, Strava and Garmin Connect, allowing users to import additional exercise performance data. Its recommendations are delivered before, during and after workout sessions, and also include guidance on food consumption, training load and recovery.
The Gx Sweat Patch is sold as a two-pack for $24.99 either directly from Gatorade's website or through Dick's Sporting Goods. The Gx app is a free download.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT
The microfluidic patch technology Gatorade is selling to consumers is a step up over "time-intensive and laborious conventional sweat analysis methods," Ghaffari and colleagues wrote in the aforementioned published study. The technology is relatively cheap, they wrote, and passively collects and describes sweat composition in a way that can quickly be analyzed and acted upon by the wearer thanks to the accompanying smartphone-compatible system.
Of note, their research did highlight areas of potential improvement for the technology. The patch had difficulty measuring the sweat of less than 10% of study participants with low sweat flow rates (an area they wrote they are planning to address in future research). Further, validation of the platform was focused on exercise sessions "representative of typical workouts by recreational and trained athletes, and that results could differ for sessions lasting beyond 90 to 120 minutes."
Despite this, the wearable patch – and subsequently, Gatorade's commercialized version of the platform – stands to improve access to fitness and health insights without the need for specialized expertise or more complicated tools, they wrote. And while the patch and app are primarily designed for use by athletes or other sports professionals, hydration data also has real-world applications "in military readiness and clinical medicine," they added.
Gatorade, of course, has plenty to gain from marketing the patch and app to consumers. Hydration shortcomings spotted by the app would be addressed by the company's sports drinks, while greater engagement in personal fitness and increased brand exposure all translate to higher sales of its primary products.
It's a general strategy that's led numerous consumer fitness brands to either dabble or dive into the connected fitness space.
Nike and Adidas both made a hard push into digital products before calling it quits back in 2017. Under Armour absorbed a number of digital fitness tools around that same time, but just a few months ago announced that it was selling off MyFitnessPal and shuttering Endomondo so as to put all of its weight behind the third platform under its belt, MapMyFitness. And not to be forgotten is Lululemon, which sealed one of last year's biggest digital health deals with the summer purchase of in-home workout platform Mirror for $500 million.
As for sweat-monitoring patches themselves, researchers have outlined experimental systems over the past few years that could be used to either diagnose diseases or detect glucose levels and deliver diabetes medication as needed, while others have described a thread-based sweat monitoring platform that could be sewn, woven or stitched onto clothing. Meanwhile Sweati, a U.K.-based startup partnered with Imperial College London, recently announced the launch of its own disposable patch that it said can wirelessly sends glucose, lactate and hydration data to a companion smartphone app every 10 seconds.