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Can Monitoring Your Blood Sugar Help Improve Your Workouts?

The team at a Finnish company called Veri believes that we can take control of our health by harnessing the power of tracking and monitoring our blood sugar levels. Get-Fit Guy gets to the bottom of how you can use this info to help improve your fitness. 

By
Brock Armstrong
11-minute read
Episode #521
The Quick And Dirty
  • Tracking how your blood sugar reacts to meals, exercise, and sleep can help you maintain energy, focus, and good health.
  • Understanding how a meal or snack affects your blood sugar can help you fuel for a specific workout more accurately.
  • Seeing how your blood sugar reacts to a particular workout can inform you about how hard you're working out more accurately than just monitoring your heart rate.
  • Monitoring in real-time how your body can essentially fuel itself can allow you to work out with more confidence.

I am going to be honest with you. I was first introduced to the idea of using a continuous glucose monitor to improve health and longevity a number of years ago and didn’t give it much time or thought. My rationale was "I'm not a person with diabetes, so why would I want to bother tracking my blood sugar?"

Well, I asked my guest on today’s podcast episode exactly that. 

I think for a person that is a non-diabetic, Veri becomes a really powerful system to build accountability, and that accountability is food accountability. So with Veri, you get this stream of feedback. You give it an input and it gives you an output, just like sleeping and monitoring with an Oura ring or getting more active with an Apple Watch. Essentially, for a non-diabetic to measure their blood sugar, the things that come through are: What is the state of their metabolic health right now? And how, with the food they eat and the lifestyle habits they lead, are they contributing to that?

Anttoni Aniebonam

What is Veri?

Veri is a company located in Finland. And the word veri means "blood" in Finnish. So that should give you a big clue right there that Veri is a system to monitor your blood. Your blood glucose levels, to be exact.

When I received my Veri package in the mail, inside was a small round disc with a tiny hair-like spike coming out of one side. Along with that, there was a plastic applicator and not much else. My partner helped me apply the disc with the hair-spike going into the skin on the back of my arm (on my tricep, to be exact). I covered it with a fancy sticker to keep it safe, downloaded the Veri app, and away I went. 

A few hours after each meal or snack, Veri would assign a score to my meal photo, which would inform me whether or not that meal was appropriate for the amount of exercise and sleep I had gotten.

Over the next fourteen days, I tracked my food intake by simply snapping a picture of everything I ate. I tracked my sleep using the Apple Health app. And periodically held my iPhone up to the disc on the back of my arm (as you can see me doing in the photo above) so that Veri could read what had been happening with my blood sugar since the last time I held my phone up to it.

A few hours after each meal or snack, Veri would assign a score to my meal photo, which would inform me whether or not that meal was appropriate for the amount of exercise and sleep I had gotten. The app also gave me a chart and a score for how well I regulated my blood sugar that day and made some suggestions for how I could keep my blood sugar more consistent and stable.

During the first week I was using it, when friends asked me what I had learned so far, I would generally reply by saying “my pancreas is working correctly” (a healthy pancreas secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon, both of which regulate blood glucose). But after that first week was over, the data started to get more meaningful and the app started to give me more and more useful information. 

Meaningful and useful enough that I decided to have the co-founder of Veri as a guest of the podcast to chat about how it works and to answer some of the questions that came up during my 14-day blood glucose adventure. 

Interview with Veri founder and CEO

Anttoni Aniebonam is the founder and CEO of Veri, a metabolic health company looking to make glucose “the next heart rate” (which we touch on in the interview). Prior to building Veri, Anttoni worked at Meru Health, a mental health tech company based in the Bay Area. In his free time, Anttoni runs marathons and races Ironman triathlons.

I always encourage you to listen to interviews rather than read them. (In this case, if only to hear Anttoni's charming Finnish accent.) But if you really prefer to read, here's a transcript of our conversation. It's been lightly edited for clarity.

Brock:
So, what was it in particular about blood glucose that drew you to monitoring that instead of all the other crazy quantification things that are popular right now?

Anttoni:
I've been super into everything related to health and fitness for the longest time. I've played soccer since I was a kid then got into CrossFit and these kinds of like topics at a pretty young age. And when I was 17, I was actually working on building a nutrition/fitness program marketplace. So, I've kind of been interested in the space of getting into a better state of health, through nutrition and fitness for a pretty long time already.

Brock:
That's an interesting path you took. In terms of our audience here at the Get-Fit Guy podcast, we really do like to focus on fitness and exercise and workouts and things like that. And the reason that I wanted to bring you on and talk about blood sugar is that it really does serve a very specific purpose when we want to work out or exercise. 

So can you summarize how blood sugar actually acts and works and how we can use it to improve our workouts?

Anttoni:
Out of all the energy sources that humans could build energy out of (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) carbohydrates and proteins are translated into glucose. And currently, most modern humans run on glucose. So pick any person on the street, most likely, they're mainly running on glucose. It necessarily wasn't like that, always. But today, that's a fact. 

Understanding this fuel source, when thinking about it in the context of fitness, and exercise in general, is extremely crucial.

So understanding this fuel source, when thinking about it in the context of fitness, and exercise in general, is extremely crucial. So that we can prepare and get the most out of our workouts. 

Brock:
With what you just said in mind, how is monitoring your blood glucose, especially continually monitoring your blood glucose, actually help us improve our fitness?

Anttoni:
Monitoring blood sugar can improve our fitness in a couple of ways. 

One is outside of the gym, or outside of the general workout through nutrition. At Veri, we advocate for stable blood sugar. So that you would have as stable of blood sugar as possible, constantly. 

There are some borderlines here, some edge cases—especially things like when working out—which come into play. I'm happy to explain a bit more, in a second, why we advocate for keeping your blood sugar stable as possible and minimizing your nutritional intake from non-necessary glucose spikes. 

But when thinking about workouts, if we would want to, for example, get ready for an intensive workout. As we've now done, we can take an extra source of carbohydrates and ingest that and get that extra energy. But to see that actually makes a big change, which I have personally myself experienced. Seeing is believing, and even if you ate that banana before your workout, you know that that's going to increase the amount of energy you have. But just seeing that, it just reinforces it and takes it to a whole different level.

Brock:
One thing that I actually noticed that I thought was really interesting—I'm an “intermittent faster,” not necessarily because I'm monitoring or measuring or anything fancy like that. I just tend to not like to eat my breakfast until well after my morning workout. So I usually have 14 to 16 hours between my dinner the night before and my breakfast the next day. And I noticed, using Veri, that I would get up in the morning and have a black cup of coffee (just because that's the way I drink my coffee) and then I do my workout. And especially if I was doing weightlifting (a heavy lifting session) or a higher intensity (anaerobic) kind of workout, I could see in the Veri app, looking at my blood sugar levels, that during that workout, I actually had a blood sugar spike without eating any food. Can you explain what's going on there?

Anttoni:
Yeah. Basically, it isn't just dependent on the food. It's more dependent on the intensity of the workout and what resources your body is using for that fuel. There are a lot of pathways and a lot of things that might go down. But basically, even in a fasted state, you might enter gluconeogenesis and start burning extra fuel there. But, the main thing here is that you have a deficiency of oxygen. Then you're basically burning glucose as a fuel source.

Brock:
The body is either converting proteins into carbohydrates because it needs them or it's pulling them out of liver storage or muscle storage, again, because there's that lack of oxygen and it needs that glucose to burn?

Anttoni:
Yeah.

Brock:
So you don't even need to eat those sugary things to get that same sort of benefit. I've always heard that, but it was really interesting to actually witness it by using the Veri app and the arm monitor.

Anttoni:
Yeah. It's extremely fascinating data to see. Because right now, think about going for a fat-burning workout or then looking to get, for example, a better HIIT workout. Distinguishing those zones where your heart rate needs to be in order to work on endurance, for example, compared to burning fat, is really challenging, and monitoring glucose brings an extra layer there where we can start seeing breakout points in a new light.

Brock:
Yeah, absolutely. I understand that could actually lead us to, as fitness enthusiasts or people who want to do some racing—as you said, you were doing triathlons and marathons, and so do I—if we're using Veri in those specific times, how can that actually help us make sure that we're fueling correctly for our workouts to make sure that we're getting the most out of our workouts?

Anttoni:
When thinking about different intensities and lengths of different workouts, there's a very interesting thing where glucose itself can explain a lot more than the current methods out there in the market right now. 

So when thinking about the pathway that you're using, the difference is between working out on an anaerobic level or working out on an aerobic level. The difference here is that on an anaerobic level, you're working out on a more insensitive zone in terms of heart rates, or your heart rate is higher than on an aerobic level. And you're basically, as a fuel source, you are in an environment where you lack oxygen, you are burning glucose faster, which is creating a glucose spike. And that's visualized in tools like Veri as a glucose spike. So a very interesting thing happens here. 

So during a HIIT workout, you'd see that you have a glucose spike, and that will reaffirm you that you are doing an anaerobic exercise session. When you're on an aerobic exercise that is lengthier and less intensive, you're actually seeing your glucose graph and glucose levels drop a bit, which is a reinforcement that "okay, now I'm working out on a level that I'm actually looking at optimizing for fat burn." 

So glucose gives this extra pattern of information there to really help you understand if you have actually reached the tipping point.

So what we've seen, and what we constantly see in the gyms, are these labels of which heart zones you're working out on and what you're burning for field or what kind of resistance you're creating. So glucose gives this extra pattern of information there to really help you understand if you have actually reached the tipping point of working out on an aerobic or anaerobic level.

Brock:
Through my own experience using Veri, I think I found more information outside of my workouts. Like seeing how my body was actually reacting to, say, eating a big bowl of oatmeal versus having an egg and vegetables for breakfast. Seeing the difference in my blood sugar rise within the few hours after that informed me how I could use those to my advantage (or to my disadvantage, I guess, in some ways,) during my workouts.

I could see how my body was actually reacting to eating a big bowl of oatmeal versus having an egg and vegetables for breakfast.

So if I knew I was going to be demanding that higher glucose, the oatmeal was definitely the better choice, but if I was doing a long endurance run, then I could go for the eggs. And I know that seems really obvious to anybody who knows anything about nutrition, but there were some very specific things I learned about myself, like that I don't react as highly to apples as I do to bananas. I saw a bigger spike in my blood sugar from one fruit than another, which was a little surprising.

Anttoni:
Yeah, definitely. I think there are a lot of those kinds of use cases in our clients as well and kind of like observation. So a lot of people see something that they are very surprised about; that something they've done their whole lives and haven't really realized it. Like oatmeal is a good example. As well as bananas, which are considered really good pre-workout meals, but are spiking some people really badly, and so on. And not necessarily optimal, optimizing for or avoiding insulin resistance, and so on.

Brock:
Yeah. And you can look at it in that sort of overall health context, but then if you shift the lens, as I did, to "Oh, okay, well, that's interesting. I got a really high spike. I could use that to my advantage before a really good workout or before a race."

Anttoni:
That's a really good point. And that's something as well that is really interesting to optimize for.

Brock:
So okay. To finish up, I love to give the readers some tips that they can really look at and start working on right away. So, even if somebody wasn't going to buy a continuous glucose monitor, like Veri, what are your top three tips to maintain your blood sugar in the optimal zone, whether they're doing it for fitness or just for overall health?

Anttoni:
My three main tips for maintaining optimal blood sugar are:

  1. Cutting down on simple processed carbohydrates. Very rarely do these sources contribute to anything. So dropping processed foods from your diet will pay dividends. 
  2. Of course then, as well, something that I've learned myself during my long-distance exercises and so on is to try to find alternative energy sources than gels and other very simple sugars. I do energy balls with peanut butter and a lot of good nutrients to just have a much more stable blood sugar throughout the race, but still extra energy during the workouts. 
  3. One final tip that I would give is working out fasted. This is something that I've started doing a lot after being introduced to this space a couple of years ago now. When you're working out fasted, you are training your metabolism to utilize fat for fuel, which is something that as said in the beginning, most modern humans are not accustomed to. Most modern humans are running on glucose, which is a different pathway than oxidizing fat for fuel. So working out fasted is actually working out your metabolism as well to use that other pathway that is very distinct to the glucose metabolizing pathway.

Brock:
Yeah. I love the tip about finding different fuel sources, especially for doing during those long races. I did an Ironman triathlon a few years ago, and I think I had 16 of those terrible gooey gel pack things during that race. And I just felt awful. It just ruined my gut for a couple of days.

Anttoni:
Yeah, exactly. The next days are horrible.

Brock:
So, all right. If somebody wanted to get in touch with you to learn more, or if they want to get themselves a Veri to try out, where's the best place to find you.

Anttoni:
We are currently on limited release and veristable.com is our domain. We are distributing the product from a waitlist and letting people through bit by bit. But a hot tip is if you use a secret code at the end, which is "SKIPTHELINE" in all caps, you'll get past the waitlist and get yourself a product.

Brock:
Oh, good tip! All right. I'll put links and everything in the show notes so my listeners don't have to try to remember that. And I know you're active on social media. Is that a good place to reach out if people have questions?

Anttoni:
Yeah, definitely. Twitter is a good place to find me as @realanttoni.

Brock:
Great. Well, thank you, Anttoni. This is very interesting stuff.

Anttoni:
Thanks a lot, Brock. I really appreciate you bringing me on board and hope you enjoyed using Veri.

Brock:
I did!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.