How Big Data Keeps our Favorite Athletes Healthy

Monday, September 12, 2016


“Big Data” has promised to change or improve many industries. Until recently though, it hasn’t done much to help athletes understand their bodies.  Athletes overtrain, undertrain, get injured and fatigued.  With so much time, energy, and money going into sports and training, shouldn’t athletes be empowered to know everything about their bodies?

“How do you feel today?” That was often one of the first questions a trainer or coach would ask me throughout my athletic career. The problem is that feelings are not a good predictor of performance.

As a varsity squash player at Harvard, I found myself surrounded by athletes who didn’t know what they were doing to their bodies.  As a result, I became fascinated by physiology and how to better understand performance. I read over 300 medical papers and met with countless cardiologists and physiologists. I discovered that there are secrets that your body is trying to tell you - secrets that can predict readiness and fatigue.  At the time, there was no way to monitor those secrets!

I partnered with two fellow Harvard students, John Capodilupo and Aurelian Nicolae, who eventually became my co-founders.  We’ve spent the last 4 years building WHOOP, the first scientifically-grounded system to optimize performance for athletes.  Today, we are proud to work alongside 50 brilliant engineers, designers, and data scientists.  By creating proprietary hardware, software, and analytics, we help athletes train and recover more effectively.

WHOOP is different in that it provides actionable data.  We collect over 100mb of data on an athlete per day, which is the largest of any wearable device.  We then analyze that data to explain your body’s strain, recovery, and sleep performance.  Strain includes the intensity of workouts or your overall day.  Recovery is how prepared your body is for Strain.  Sleep performance includes the quantity and quality of your sleep.  If an athlete has a low recovery, we recommend that the athlete takes on a lower strain that day.  (Yes, we actually tell athletes to do less!)  If an athlete has a higher recovery, we encourage a higher strain.  Matching your body’s strain to your recovery allows for optimal training.  An athlete who wants to improve his recovery will also improve lifestyle decisions (like more sleep and less drinking alcohol).

To date, we’ve worked with professional athletes across every major U.S. sports league, college athletes across every conference, Olympians, and members of the military.

After 4 months on WHOOP, our college athletes…

- Dedicated an additional 41 mins to sleep per night
- Reduced alcohol consumption by 79%
- Had fitness improvements of a lower Resting HR by 4.4 bpm and an increased HRV of 8.3ms
- Reported injuries 60% less

We are proud to see WHOOP athletes improve behavior, get fit, and reduce injuries.

Calling Boston Home

I always expected that we’d move WHOOP to NY.  I grew up in NY and worked previously in Manhattan.  The city with more hustle than anywhere else in the world must be the perfect place to found a startup, right?

John and I met at Harvard so it was natural that we started building WHOOP out of the Harvard Innovation Lab.  The i-Lab gave us free office space and mentorship; they let us grow organically.  We met Eric Paley there, a partner at Founder Collective, who helped us raise our seed round.

The proximity to Harvard proved to be terrific for data testing on athletes.  We’d walk over to Harvard Stadium with chest straps and WHOOP prototypes and collect data on any willing athletes (there were many).

Schools like MIT and Harvard proved to have amazing advisors to WHOOP.  We met Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, who became a close advisor and individual investor.  Nicholas Christakis and Kit Parker, both at Harvard at the time, advised us on how health and social networks intersected, and the potential application for the military.

Today, we work in the Fenway.  Samuels & Associates took us under their wing as they oversee a massive development here, which includes startups, apartment buildings, retail space, and new local businesses.  As I write this, I stare out at Fenway Park, just close enough to hear the roar of the crowd when the Red Sox make a big play.  It’s a daily reminder that sports are important.  We’ll do our best to keep the Red Sox, one of our clients, healthy.

Boston has become our home. It seems to be the best place we could have built WHOOP.

WHOOP's offices in the Fenway