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Podcast No. 90: Kevin Sprouse, Medical Director for EF Pro Cycling

September 9, 2020

This week’s guest is Dr. Kevin Sprouse - one of the leading sports medicine and exercise physiology experts out there today.

By Will Ahmed

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Kevin is one of the leading sports medicine and exercise physiology experts out there today. He works with many of the best athletes on the planet, including baseball and football players, Olympians, and some of the top golfers on the PGA Tour.

Kevin is also the medical director for EF Pro Cycling, one of the top 10 cycling teams in the world. WHOOP is proud to be the official wearable of EF and we are excited to be helping the EF team during the Tour de France. EF Pro Cycling’s medical team is using WHOOP data science to monitor rider well-being and optimize their performance on the biggest stage in cycling.

Kevin Sprouse Podcast Show Notes:

2:29 – Getting Into Sports Medicine and Performance. “When I started my practice, I was pretty adamant that I wanted to bring exercise physiology and nutrition performance into medicine. It’s not novel to say it now, but there was a lot of focus on disease and how things go bad but we didn’t really focus on how to make someone who is healthy perform better.”

5:17 – Studying and Treating Elite Cyclists. “Cycling is interesting from a sports medicine and performance standpoint in that there are so many measured variables and metrics that we follow. Heart rate, power output, distance, climbing metrics. It’s kind of a playground for somebody who is into the science of performance.”

6:58 – Improving Sleep Performance. Kevin details why so many of the top cyclists in the world struggle to sleep and what steps he and his team have taken to help EF athletes improve their sleep without drugs. “There tended to be an overly pharmacologic response. To me, if our goal is performance and we know that these types of pharmaceutical aids for sleep are not really fostering the best restorative sleep, then that wasn’t the way to go.”

9:36 – Recovery = Success. “The big determiner stage to stage on who does well across the entire Tour [de France] is how well you can recover and go again the next day.”

14:30 – Learning From the Best. “The lifestyle aspects that we can learn from the best athletes in the world are actually highly attainable. You or I may not be able to dunk from the free throw line like Michael Jordan or LeBron, but we can adopt a lot of the same sleep methodologies and recovery methodologies that they do. That’s a powerful bridge between the best athletes in the world and everyday consumers.”

15:25 – Recovery Tips. Kevin details the in-depth approaches the EF Pro Cycling medical team takes to optimize recovery with their athletes.

17:38 – A Recovery Technique for Everyone. “In general, what we find in sports medicine literature is there’s not great evidence for any one recovery tool. … We know that for individuals, when you implement certain things the response can be pretty substantial. Using something like WHOOP to measure for an individual if we implement this strategy for a week, what does that look like?

21:13 – Diet and Recovery. Kevin dives deep on the science behind antioxidants, free radicals, and their role in recovery.

23:48 – Continuous Glucose Monitors. “I think [glucose monitoring] is one of the most underutilized tools we have in medicine because you get that instant feedback. … If you throw a sensor on and can eat a meal and look at your number, or go for an exercise session and look at your number, you can get instant feedback. What I’ve seen with my patients from a health or performance standpoint is that instantaneous feedback provides the lever they need to move them in the right direction.”

25:55 – Scott Stallings. Kevin and Will talk about Scott Stallings, a patient of Kevin’s and arguably the fittest player on the PGA Tour. Scott used WHOOP to help transform his body and his career after he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue in 2015. Check out Scott’s appearance on the WHOOP Podcast.

27:34 – WHOOP Tour de France Data. Kevin and Will discuss the absurdly high strain the EF Cycling team is taking on during the Tour De France. “I’m looking at one [rider] here, 20.7 [strain], 20.7, 20.7, 20.4, and these are with recovery scores that are anywhere from 20’s up to 80’s.”

31:12 – 24/7 Health Monitoring. “It’s very hard for us to help [our athletes] with poor recovery, fatigue, things like that, if we’ve only got a very myopic window into their day. If we can open that up and see everything that’s going on [with WHOOP], it helps us be much more helpful to get them to be where they need to be.”

34:33 – Understanding HRV. Will details how learning about heart rate variability inspired him to start WHOOP. “I thought, ‘This is the coolest thing.’ … But wait, you have to go get hooked up to an EKG or wear this ridiculous chest strap all the time? So probably the single greatest accomplishment of WHOOP from a technology standpoint was that we were the first product to measure heart rate variability accurately from the wrist.”

39:27 – Impact of Alcohol. “I’ve found it really interesting to look at alcohol intake [with WHOOP]. The timing of alcohol and the amount of alcohol are both well documented, but [I was interested in] the type of alcohol [and how it affects your body]. A couple of years ago I came home [from work] and I poured a really nice bourbon. Just two ounces and I sipped on it while my wife was making dinner. I drank it and my sleep was terrible. So the next night I tried it again. One drink, two ounces, same timing, terrible sleep. One of my nurses had given me a really nice bottle of scotch, so the next day I poured the same thing, two ounces of scotch and sipped on it while my wife was making dinner and I slept like a baby. So I went back and forth between the two and I did this trial, not for weeks on end, I didn’t keep on drinking, but consistently it had that effect. … So I work with patients on what they drink, that’s important too.”

42:57 – Pushing Back Against the Pill for Every Ill. “There’s very much this idea [in medicine] of “Oh, this is your diagnosis? Here’s what you should take for that.” And there’s a place for that, I’ve got no problem with the pharmaceutical industry and medications and those things, but we’re far too dependent on it. So what I like to do is say, ‘Okay, this is your diagnosis, but what’s gotten you there? How can we reverse engineer this and get you out of it?’”

45:42 – The Best of the Best. When Will asks Kevin who comes to mind when he thinks of optimal performance, Kevin doesn’t hesitate: The top riders at the Tour de France. “You’ve got the 8, 10, 12 guys who are truly probably the fittest people, from an aerobic standpoint, in the world at the moment. When you get to watch them take off up the hill, I just love it.”

48:21 – Connect with Kevin. Find Kevin’s practice, Podium Sports Medicine at Plus, check out the Podium Podcast.

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.