Tracking has been one of the biggest trends in health and fitness over the past few years, and as such we’ve covered the topic in many guises here on inForm, from biohackers taking blood samples and smart tattoos measuring glucose levels to the best step counter apps or the perils of sleep tracking.
According to a YouGov poll last year, 27 percent of those surveyed own and currently use a smartwatch or wearable fitness band, and its ease of use and relative inconspicuousness on our wrists, make it a much more attractive and mainstream proposition then say grabbing a syringe and taking blood. We can only expect to see this percentage continuing to grow, as the importance of health, fitness and general wellbeing becomes more pronounced.
But what’s the next step in our increasingly tracked lives? Well, Lumen would have you believe it’s metabolic tracking. Billed as the world’s first metabolism measurement device through breath, the Lumen device — which looks like a mini modernist sculpture of a penguin sans beak — is designed to tell you whether you’re burning carbs, fat, or somewhere in between. This can be useful if you’re restricting your carbs on a keto diet say or intermittent fasting to put your body into a fat-burning state. It’s also handy if you’re a regular gym-goer — being in a carb-burning state before your workout will mean you should have enough energy to perform at your best.
The idea is that through this regular measurement you’ll be able to ‘hack’ your metabolism by adopting the personalised tips and nutrition plans offered by the accompanying app. But how does hacking your metabolism work in practice?
Well, Lumen kindly sent over a device for us to offer up our impartial opinion, and off the bat, the packaging certainly has the slick design language that has made every one of us gaga over our iPhones and Fitbits — all shiny black and stripped down functioning.
Hooking it up to the app which is readily downloadable on the Apple Store and Google Play (not to be confused with the over 50s dating app of the same name, as was my error) is easy, as you’re immediately prompted to record your first measurement.
Now, this is where things can get tricky. To take a reading, the device needs to record one breath in for 10 seconds, one breath out for 10 seconds and then do it all again. That’s already 40 seconds, plus the roughly 10 seconds in between each breath it takes to gear up, which takes it up to around two minutes.
And that’s if you’ve not blown your recording by either blowing too fast or too slow — a mistake I routinely, and quite frustratingly, make. Then it’s back to square, or should that be, breath one.
Granted you do get used to the pacing after a week, but when you’re wiping off the sleep from under your eyes and huffing away first thing in the morning — the Lumen asks you to measure your metabolism as soon as you wake without eating, along with various other points in the day including pre and post-workout and post meals — it’s easy to mis-blow.
The beauty of a Fitbit is how easy it is to swipe across, up and down. Plus it’s just there, recording with every flick of your wrist.
On successfully blowing you’re then given a score from one to five with one meaning you’re in fat-burning mode, five your burning carbs and three, well, you’re somewhere in between. It’s a handy way to see where you are within your day, and also how those little lifestyle changes you make can impact your metabolism.
For example, the app tells you that in the mornings after your overnight fast you want to be burning fat, while before exercise you want to be burning carbs and shifting to a fat-burning state through the workout. In that sense, it can also pinpoint where you’re going wrong with your eating and workout plans. A sluggish workout may mean you’ve not fuelled yourself with carbs enough (or you might have gone too far the other way). Midnight snacking or a dinner too late at night and you might still be burning off those carbs in the morning.
The Lumen app also acts as a diary of sorts, asking you to upload daily reports on how long you’ve slept, how many servings of carbs you’ve had, and what exercise you’ve completed.
After two weeks of recordings, you’re given a ‘flex’ score out of 21, used to decipher your metabolic flexibility i.e. your ability to shift seamlessly between states depending on your needs. This is the hacking of the metabolism part, the idea being that through continued use and rigidly following the app’s tips and nutrition plans you will have refined your metabolism, and sharpened it into a tool of optimum functionality.
Now, we are but human, and so, of course, it doesn’t always work this way. I’m not a regular drinker of alcohol, but one night of drinking to celebrate a friend’s birthday sends my results, and gradual progress, haywire. It’s again another interesting observation, and as with sleep and fitness trackers, that’s where the fascination will lie as we try and pinpoint exactly where we’re going wrong, and how we can set that right in the future.
There are obvious pitfalls with all this tracking though. Take sleep trackers for example, with several sleep experts expressing concern over the detrimental impact over-analyzing our sleep can have on you know, actually sleeping. Self-diagnosis then can often be misrepresentative and confusing, leading people down roads that seeing an actual real-life expert would steer them away from.
And of course, with Lumen, there’s the wonder whether people will have the discipline and desire to lock in the minutes, blowing away at their blacked-out breathalyzer in the office or on the tube journey home. Then again we didn’t think we’d all be glued to our Strava profiles, Whoop apps, or compact Fitbit screens. But here we are, all 27 percent of us, and rising, tapped into each and every step, heartbeat, and now perhaps, our metabolism.