Thursday July 21st, 2016

Head Kansas City Royals athletic trainer Nick Kenney wants science to help his World Series championship team get even better, which is why the Royals hired Denver-based MuscleSound, the company announced on Wednesday. 

The MuscleSound system—already in use by the Colorado Rockies in the MLB, as well as teams in the NFL, NBA and NHL—uses ultrasounds to measure muscle glycogen content levels. With the company’s cloud-based analytical software, Kenney can get real-time reports in the locker room, which helps him determine any needed changes to nutrition, sleep patterns or practice times. He hopes to use the system to track his players’ capacity to generate, store and replenish energy in their muscles.

Until recently, muscle glycogen content levels could only be measured through procedures, such as a biopsy, or with MRI equipment. With the ultrasound process, the speed and quantity of data allows Kenney to use a new tool in his effort to improve players. “With that data, we then develop a customized nutritional and training plan for every player to ensure positive change in performance and injury reduction,” Kenney says, “and minimize recovery or time not playing due to injuries.”

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“The technology does make finding out what the muscle tissue is undertaking very easy, but we have to piece things together as to what is actually causing the depletion of glycogen," Kenney says. "That is where we have to get better in our business.”

By taking readings throughout the day—morning, pre-practice, pre-game and post-game—Kenney hopes to find the optimal time to get a true reading on the body. But it also paints him a picture of how different events change the way muscles react and recover.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

For example, readings between a night game and a day game can help determine how well a player did in terms of recovery. Do the Royals need to change sleep patterns of players? Maybe improve the post-game meal?

“Maybe we are adding in more carbs or specific carbs at specific points of time in the day or adding in protein at certain points to up the levels,” he says. “Maybe we are adding in more hydration or having six small meals instead of four meals. It is like putting logs on a fire. When you want to create a certain temperature and hold that temperature, you have to continually fuel that fire.”

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Based in Kansas City, Kenney remains keenly aware of how heat can impact a player, which could change the way athletes hydrate or if they should even take batting practice. And then there are the time zone questions. “We are testing guys in situations where we are going to pass through two time zones,” he says, “testing him on day two to see [the changes]. There is quite a bit of science into it, but MuscleSound has a very good staff of scientists helping us compile numbers and giving us recommendations to try to be better.”

Kenney says the players remain divided on the new technology, with some fearing that any information—the technology does read the quality of a muscle—will get used against them in future contract talks, but others stay “very, very interested to see where their body is taking them.”

“We are trying to get guys to optimal levels and increase performance levels,” Kenney says. “That is our intended use.”

Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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