Basic Nutrition for Tennis Players

The following article was prepared with the help of Page Love, owner of NutriSport Consulting. The USHSTA advises the reader that sports nutrition is an evolving discipline and that this article was prepared using the best interpretation of the information currently available.

If you’ve heard about one or more star tennis players following a gluten-free, low-carb or other diet, if they’re successful, they’re successful despite their inappropriate eating habits. Tennis players need complex carbs to quickly get the glycogen they burn during tennis matches. Healthy fats and lean protein are important food choices, but should be eaten in the right amounts at the right times.

Following are tips for smart eating if you want your body to perform its best during activity.

Eat Carbohydrates

Glycogen is the primary fuel for muscle contractions during tennis. Your body creates glycogen from carbohydrates, fat or protein. The quickest source for this conversion is carbohydrates, which is therefore, the most important nutrient for peak athletic performance. Complex carbohydrates are more beneficial than simple carbohydrates (sugary, white carbs), so focus on this group.

Proteins can be eaten in moderate quantities before your practice or match, but stay away from fat as you get close to matches, which can cause gastrointestinal distress. If you’ll be sweating profusely during a match, salt your foods before you play to increase your stores of sodium. Don’t take a salt tablet right before you play because that will make it take longer for fluids to leave your stomach.

When to Eat?

As you get closer to activity, decrease your fat and protein intake. Dinner the night before should be high in complex carbohydrates. The day of your match, you may want to consider grazing – – eating smaller quantities several times throughout the day. Energy bars, muffins, fruits and vegetables are a great way to keep energy levels up.

Familiarity Breeds Content

Do not experiment with foods on game day. Try new foods before practice matches or fun runs.

Fast Food Choices

High school players will often in the school cafeteria the day of their matches. Pizza is high in complex carbohydrates. Tell your players to go with vegetable toppings and keep away from meat, which will cause the fat content to soar. Salad bars offer lots of complex carbohydrate choices, and a baked potato is right on target. Again, stay away from toppings high in fat, such as dressings, prepared salads (potato, pasta, Cole slaw, etc.), bacon bits, sour cream, cheese and butter.

The Candy Bar Myth

Many people still believe that a dose of sugar immediately before a match will give them extra energy. Actually, eating a candy bar before or during your activity can cause a rapid increase in blood-sugar level, which causes you to exhaust quicker. Many candies, especially those that contain chocolate, are high in fat.

Believe it or not, chocolate milk is one of the best post-activity recovery drinks because of its combination of carbs, proteins, amino acids, as well as some calcium, potassium and magnesium. It’s not the cocao, so much, but the sugar in the chocolate that helps your muscles recover.

Pre-Competition Meal

•The meal should be small in portion sizes and calorie level (500-800 calories).

•The meal should be predominantly high in complex carbohydrate foods that are low in fiber (cereals, breads, pastas).

•The meal should consist of foods that are familiar and well-tolerated by the athlete.

•The meal should be consumed approximately three hours before the match and should be accompanied with proper fluid intake (one to two glasses along with the meal).

•Water-based vegetables will help with hydration.

Your body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. Water molecules are absorbed into the muscles as carbohydrates are converted in glycogen. Limiting fluid intake, therefore, would limit your ability to store glycogen.

Remember, these guidelines are to help athletes eat in such a way that benefits peak athletic performance. In addition to increased carbohydrates before activity, your body needs both fat and protein to function on a day-to-day basis, and a deficiency in your diet of either of these important nutrients can lead to health problems.

Sports Drinks

Kids tend to overdo it with sports drinks. Here’s an article written by USHSTA executive director Steve Milano that explains when they should drink water before and during a match, and when they should drink a sports drink.

Foods high in complex carbohydrates

Pasta Rice Crackers Muffins
Cereal Potatoes Rice Cakes Breads
Vegetables* Bagels Popcorn Grits
Oatmeal Pretzels Waffles Pancakes

*Starchy vegetables are best (corn, lima beans, peas, chili beans, etc).

Foods high in simple carbohydrates

Fruits and juices Yogurt Candy Chocolate
Cake Cookies Colas Frozen desserts
Graham crackers* Gingersnaps* Fig newtons* Vanilla wafers*
Sherbet* Frozen yogurt* Sugar-free pudding*

*Better, low-fat choices in this group

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