“Performance nutrition now plays an integral role in every professional player’s daily routine. Tennis is an intermittent exercise with short bursts of activity highly dependent on carbohydrate for energy. Getting the right fuel and fluids is critical to their performance and must meet the demands of the game and support recovery”.
A good rule of thumb for tennis players is to go for “real” foods that are fresh and minimally processed. Processed foods have typically been stripped back, dehydrated, grinded down or cooked, or pumped full of preservative and artificial chemicals, simply so that they last longer and are more conveniently consumed. These processes rob them of many nutrients, and resulting health benefits.
WHAT SHOULD I BE EATING?
There are several nutrients you should be aiming to consume for good health. Here’s what they do, and where you can find them:
- Reduces inflammation, aids recovery
- Found in salmon, sardines, tuna, flax seeds and walnuts
- Aids in muscle development, strength and repair
- Found in red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, lentils and nuts, College Cheese
- Promotes bone development, good nerve and muscle function
- Found in dairy foods like yoghurt, plus almonds, some fish, and some dark green leafy vegetables
- Transports oxygen around the body
- Found in red meat, molluscs, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and whole grains
- Protect against oxidative stress in the body, which can damage cells
- Found in berries, other fruits and vegetables, green tea
WHAT TO EAT BEFORE YOU PLAY
Although there’s no “correct” way to fuel your body for training and competition, some general guidelines exist to help you work out what you should be aiming for.
Carbohydrates are one of the most important sources of energy, but not the only one. A meal containing a range of nutrients is best because you should also be consuming some protein and fats. Good meal options prior to your training or match that cover all your bases include:
- high-fibre, low-sugar breakfast cereal, with milk and fruit
- a wholegrain sandwich or roll, with lean protein like chicken or tuna plus salad
- a moderate serve of pasta or rice, with a tomato-based sauce
You want to ensure that when you take to the court for a hit, training session, or match that you have taken some time to let your meal digest. Otherwise, you may experience discomfort. Eating between two and three hours before being physically active should prevent this.
But the nature of tennis competition means you can’t always be sure when you’ll be taking to the court. If more than two or three hours passes between eating and playing, you’ll need to top up your energy stores so that you have enough in reserve to play. Carbohydrate-based snacks – a piece of fruit, or a muesli bar – are perfect for this, as are liquid meals such as smoothies or milk with Sustagen; these provide the right fuel without causing physical discomfort.
WHAT TO EAT DURING A MATCH
Many people don’t like eating while they’re being physically active, as the feeling of undigested food in the stomach can be uncomfortable.
Sports drinks are a good option in this case. They act as a source of fuel in the absence of food as they contain carbohydrates.
Should you want to eat during a match or training session, good choices include bananas and other fruits tolerated well, muesli bars, and even sandwiches with jam or honey.
WHAT TO EAT AFTER A MATCH
A lot of energy gets expended during a match, so it is important for player to refuel their bodies quickly by eating with a healthy balance of nutrition within 1 hour. For muscle recovery, a high amount of lean protein such as chicken or fish, boiled eggs should be eaten as a balanced meal with some complex carbohydrates and vegetables. Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, fitness bread (whole wheat 100% grain) with chicken breast make for a great post-match recovery meal. Couple a full meal with a natural sodium source like low-fat, high protein cheese like mozarella. You should aim to eat something within an hour of exercise, and the earlier the better.
The Tennis Diet Foods to Include Daily:
A balance diet for tennis players should include: carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins, and water or fluids. It is also ideal to eat fresh food rather than the ready made and processed food.
- Carrots: Promote healthy eyesight, which is important during a match.
- Foods with Zinc: Studies have shown that 20 mg of zinc a day can improve hand-eye coordination. Food that contain zinc include oysters, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, sunflower seeds, animal proteins, beans, nuts and almonds.
- Vitamin C: Found in high amounts in peppers and citrus fruits to aid muscle repair.
- Choline: Tomatoes, egg yolks and potatoes are all high in choline, a member of the vitamin B family. It feeds your brain’s neurotransmitters and has been proven to improve reaction times.
- Vitamin A: because it helps to make new white blood cells. Your body is going to need these to fight off infection and recover from the intense workouts. Vitamin A helps in fixing any micro tears in your muscles.
Foods to Avoid Right before a Match:
- Protein Shake. Try to avoid protein powders and large amounts of protein before a competition to lower the risk of digestive upset. Consume the protein shakes for post-competition when muscle recovery is key.
- Caffeinated drinks. Skip the sugary sodas and coffee before a match. Caffeine is both hard on the stomach and dehydrating.
- Whole-wheat pasta. Whole-wheat pasta can be a great pre-competition meal the night before or even 4 hours prior to the match when your body needs slow-releasing carbohydrates for long-lasting energy. However, immediately before a match, your body relies on quick energy from easily digestible carbohydrates.
- Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are super healthy sources of fiber and fat. However, before a competition, it’s important to focus primarily on simple carbohydrates and to limit amounts of fiber and fat to avoid any digestive discomfort during exercise.
- Salads. Leafy greens can be healthy complement to your balanced pre- or post-competition meal. However, it’s best for athletes to avoid greens right before a match since they’re high in fiber and not easily tolerated. They are a great addition to a healthy tennis diet.