by Clare Wood
Tennis is a global sport, played all year round, usually in the summer season of each of the hemispheres. Travel can be prolific at the top level, and training can be demanding but variable at different levels. Being an individual sport, there needs to also be an individualized approach to the nutritional needs of players.
Matches can vary greatly in length given the different rules for competition. Females play to the best of 3 sets, and males can sometimes play to the best of 5 sets, with matches often lasting up to 3 hours long, which will challenge an athlete’s stored carbohydrate fuel. However, the main issue is that it is difficult to prepare for something that you don’t know the duration of! Plus the start time can also change depending on the length of the game before yours. This is why nutrition during a tennis game becomes very important, and flexibility in preparation is a must.
Overall, nutrition during the training phase for tennis requires a combination of nutrient-dense carbohydrate for adequate fueling and lean proteins for muscle repair and recovery. The addition of vitamin and mineral-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains will provide a healthful balance to promote good immunity, along with some healthy fats.
Tennis is a very aerobic sport with a large emphasis on fitness. Different stages of training with varying training loads and intensities will determine the carbohydrate and energy needs on a daily basis. Demanding training may last several hours per day, which will increase carbohydrate and energy needs greatly to aid in fueling and recovery. When there are lighter training demands the need for fueling should be subsequently reduced.
If you are a developing athlete looking to increase your muscle mass, or going through a gym strengthening block, then also focusing on regular high-quality protein intake is paramount to maximizing muscle gains.
Being a summer sport, tennis is often played in the heat and sometimes humid conditions too. Most matches, and training, will be played in full sun, although on occasion some tournaments have the luxury to be played in indoor stadiums for certain top-level matches. Hydration is therefore a big factor that can hinder or assist a player during a game.
Sweat rates can vary greatly among athletes, from 0.5 to 5 liters per hour. The latter is rather extreme, however, creating an individualized drinking plan is required to match a player’s known fluid losses. Fluid and electrolytes are crucial to replace when temperatures and/or sweat rates are high. Maintaining electrolyte balance is necessary to stave off the development of dehydration, fatigue and cramp.
more about Exercise in the Heat
Good hydration starts with regularly having a drink bottle with you at training and matches, as well as checking for pale-colored urine daily. Fluid intakes should be individualized but general recommendations are to consume the following:
- ~200ml (1 cup) every 15 minutes in milder conditions (<27oC)
- up to 400ml every 15 minutes in hot and humid conditions (>27oC)
- Use of sports drinks, or electrolyte-containing fluids for long training session and matches in hot environments
There are multiple breaks in play during tennis matches and players should use these opportunities to consume lots of fluids, especially if it’s hot or humid. It has been shown though, that players do not usually replace 100% of sweat losses during a match, or training, therefore increasing the onus on replacing lost fluids afterwards to guarantee adequate rehydration.
Being well fueled and hydrated is key to any match preparation. Needing to be flexible due to the unpredictability of game start times and duration is also important. Working backwards from the presumed game start time is best for planning. Have a top-up snack 1-hour prior, after a main meal about 3 hours prior. If game times are delayed, include extra snacks up until start time. Pre-exercise eating should include carbohydrate for fuel, fluids for hydration, and be low in fats and fiber for quick digestion to avoid delayed gastric emptying, or stomach upset.
Meal choices could include:
- Sandwich or bread roll with meat and salad
- Bowl of porridge with banana or berries
- Cereal and milk, with jam toast
- Pancakes with banana, low-fat ricotta and honey
- Pasta in a tomato-based sauce
- Soy-based stir-fry with white rice
Suitable snacks options include:
- Fruit like sliced watermelon or banana
- Banana sandwich on white bread with honey
- Mini-Pancake (pikelets) with jam
- Fruit muffin or fruit buns
If you are a nervous athlete, try some liquid options to promote faster digestion, like a banana smoothie, boost juice or blended fruit drinks.
more about Pre-Competition Eating
Replacing fluids and electrolytes is a priority for any tennis match. However, if your match is extended beyond 90 minutes, fuel in the form of food should be eaten. Suitable snacks for during a game include fruit, dried fruit, sandwiches with honey or jam, and muesli bars. If you don’t feel comfortable eating while playing, trialling specialized quick digesting sports foods like gels, energy bars, and sports drink to get some carbohydrate fuel in during the game is ideal.
Cooling strategies can be useful to keep body temperature in check, particularly on really hot days, to avoid heat stress.
- Start with ice-cold water in your drink bottle
- Store drinks in a cooler with ice next to the court
- Use iced towels to place around the neck and face during breaks
- Sit in front of fans if possible
more about Competition Nutrition
After The Game
Speedy recovery is really important if your next match in the tournament is between 8-12 hours away. The 4 R’s of recovery include;
- Refueling with carbohydrates
- Repairing muscles with protein
- Rehydrating with more fluids
- Replenishing with colorful fruits and vegetables
Immediate snacks post-game including as many elements from the above list is essential, followed up with a more substantial meal about 90 minutes later. Sooner if you have a late game, to avoid eating really late into the night. The quicker the recovery the quicker you will be back to feeling refreshed.
more about Recovery Nutrition
Tennis at the competitive level requires a fair amount of travel. There are many considerations to ensure you are at the top of your game when it comes time to play. The issues may be different depending on the location you are traveling to and if you are familiar with the location or not. The following are some examples of things to consider;
- Are you staying in a self-contained apartment or hotel room?
- Where is the local supermarket? What is on the menu at the hotel restaurant?
- Is the water hygienic for drinking?
- Do you suffer from jet-lag?
- Is food or sports drinks provided at the tournament?
Many of these things can be researched before departure, and certain things arranged, like taking your own preferred drinks and snacks with you. Pre-planning is definitely required to make sure you are well prepared. See this Nutrition Guide for Traveling Athletes for more detail on this topic. Be aware of how your training load changes when away, including days of travel, and adjust nutritional intake accordingly.
more about Travel Nutrition
- Mayur K. Ranchordas, David Rogersion, Alan Ruddock, Sophie C. Killer, and Edward M. Winter. Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendations. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2013 Jun; 12(2): 211–224.
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