No athlete likes hitting “the wall.” You know, that point at which their energy level suddenly plummets, and they just can’t go on. Using something that looks like a temporary tattoo, however, they may soon be able to receive a warning when they’re approaching that threshold.

The hitting of the wall occurs when sustained vigorous physical activity causes lactate to build up in the body. When lactate levels get too high, fatigue results. By monitoring those levels, however, athletes can ease back on the activity, allowing their lactate levels to drop before reaching that point of no return. Unfortunately, real-time monitoring currently involves blood tests, or the use of bulky equipment.

As an alternative, a team led by the University of California, San Diego’s Prof. Joseph Wang has created a flexible electrochemical biosensor. Applied to the skin, that temporary-transfer sensor continuously measures lactate levels in the athlete’s sweat. When used on 10 test subjects who were working out on an exercise bike, it was able to accurately indicate the rise in their lactate levels.

Prof. Wang hopes that the technology could be used not only in the training and performance tracking of athletes, but also for soldiers and other people who are required to perform intense physical activity. Wang has previously brought us such innovations as smart underwear, a bubble-propelled gut rocket, and another tattoo-like sensor that detects metabolic problems.

A paper on his latest research was recently published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society