Before Gunner Miller popped the white pill into his mouth and swallowed it - actually, you probably don't "pop" a $40 core temperature-measuring sensor - the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga linebacker had some questions.
"The first thing I asked them was, can you get electrocuted from this pill?" Miller said.
One of 29 Mocs football players to participate in a recent study by UTC athletic training professor Brendon McDermott, Miller also wanted to know how the sensor would be expelled from his body.
"That seemed like a pretty big deal," he said.
The answer was the obvious one - the sensor, coated in white silicone and about the size of a few Tic Tacs smushed together, worked its way through the digestive tract.
The purpose of McDermott's trial was to measure the temperatures recorded by the pill against those from a new temperature-measuring headband produced by Hothead Technologies.
"We're evaluating [the headband's] validity, whether it gives an accurate reading on somebody's body temperature," said McDermott, the clinical coordinator for UTC's graduate athletic training program.
The Hothead system plugs the skin temperature reading into an equation that yields the core temperature, up to 102.5 degrees. The headband, McDermott said, is essentially an early-warning system. When a player reaches 102.5, an alert goes off on the hand-held monitoring device, which recommends that the player leave the field.
Over the long haul, the headband, if accurate, would be the more economical alternative because it is reusable, However, neither system is cheap.
Along with paying $40 per pill (its official name is the CorTemp Ingestible Core Body Temperature Sensor), the cost of the monitoring and data recording device is $2,500, McDermott said. The first 50 headbands, along with the hand-held device, cost $5,000, and each headband after that is $10.
Ingestible sensors have been around for more than 20 years and feature a thermometer, a battery and a communication system. In the past, the most accurate way to measure someone's core temperature was with a rectal thermometer. Since its development, the pill has become the "gold standard" for reading core temperatures, McDermott said.
The sensors have been used widely in the National Football League and by big-budget college football programs over the years. However, smaller schools such as UTC, with limited resources, often don't get the chance to use the expensive technology.
"It's kind of nice to see a different view of things from a scientific basis, more than just the feel method on my part based on the experience that I've had," said UTC strength coach Scott Brincks, who runs the Mocs' summer workouts.
The Mocs begin practice Aug. 4, and UTC head athletic trainer Todd Bullard said he would use the sensors if UTC could afford them, especially during the preseason when players are working their way into optimal condition.
Bullard and his staff monitor players as much as they can. Each player is weighed before and after each practice to gauge fluid loss. Anyone who appears to be suffering during practice is pulled from the field and monitored. They're given fluids and sometimes are placed in ice baths.
Because football players - along with firefighters, soldiers and others who perform rigorous physical activities in high-temperature areas - are at risk for heat-related illnesses, being able to monitor their core temperatures is a valuable tool in keeping them safe.
"If you took that pill," Bullard said, "and I saw you hitting that red zone of 102 or 103 and you looked like you were breaking down, then we could make the decision to pull you earlier rather than waiting until the apparent symptoms exist."
HOW IT WORKS
While the pill is ingested, the headband has a sensor that touches the forehead. Both products give a temperature reading via a wireless data recorder.
The test subjects in McDermott's study swallowed the sensor, made by HQ Inc., several hours before exercising so that it would be in the intestines by the time the workout began. During the workout, the Mocs also wore the headband, which allowed McDermott to get readings from both.
"All of the technology worked and all the data transferred over, and it's sitting in spreadsheets right now waiting to be organized," said McDermott, who plans to present the results at a conference next year.
While the ideal core body temperature is 98.6 degrees, that number inevitably goes up when someone is exercising on a hot day. When the core temperature - the temperature in and around a body's internal organs - gets above 102.5, that's when the risk of heat stroke or heat-related illness rises.
McDermott said the average temperature reading from his subjects was 101-102 degrees, with a few that went over 103. He described those numbers as "normal" given the conditions: temperatures around 90 degrees with high humidity.
The workouts varied slightly among the subjects, but all essentially consisted of a warmup, repeated sprints and a cool-down period. The players' participation in the study was a one-time thing. McDermott said he had enough data for his research, but if he had the funding available, he would have continued the study.