When it comes to playing in Houston, it’s not the heat, it’s not the humidity – it’s both. When Philadelphia Union travels to Houston this weekend they will be subject to some of the hardest playing conditions they will face this season.
Temperatures are expected to reach near 100 degrees this weekend, and on top of the heat, the humidity will be at 65 percent -- almost double what the Union are used to playing in Chester. The weather doesn’t just make the athletes feel comfortable; it also has a big effect on them physiologically.
Director of Performance Garrison Draper explains that the increase in outside temperature during a game causes an athlete’s body to utilize their carbohydrate storage faster. The body cannot rely on its fat storage as a source of energy and instead will turn to its glucose and carbohydrate levels to power through. Quick movements such as jumping and sprinting are especially fueled by carbohydrates and can cause an athlete to quickly lose energy throughout the match. In order to combat the inevitable fatigue, the Union have planned ahead, beginning a nutrition and hydration regime earlier this week.
“If you start thinking of your hydration the day of the match, you’re already dehydrated,” Draper said.
Thus the team implemented a very specific plan for players that included increasing their carbohydrate intake, as well as reaching proper hydration levels throughout the week. Another major part of their recovery schedule is what happens during the game on Saturday.
Draper and the sports science staff at the Union know that during a typical game this season, an athlete will deplete anywhere between 70 and 90 percent of their glycogen levels, and these numbers are expected to drop even more during Saturday’s match given the environment. Because of this, the team has been working closely with the athletics department at Drexel University throughout the season.
Drexel’s department has developed a product called Dragon Gel which is a Jell-O-like cube made up of carbohydrates and simple sugars. The Union have used Dragon Gel throughout the season as a fuel source heading into the second half and expects the product to play a big role in the team’s recovery on Saturday.
On top of monitoring carbohydrate and hydration levels, the Union are also focused on doing the little things right. Listening to their bodies, getting enough sleep, and eating well will all play a key role for this weekend. And while the team cannot control the weather in Houston, they have set a good plan in place to hopefully make the environment on Saturday almost a non-issue.