Like all professional athletes, tennis players have carefully planned and strict diet, which is crucial for maximizing their on-court skills and performance. Competitive play can get pretty intense and can go on for a few hours with only short brakes. Of course, training is extremely important, but nutrition proved to be even more important than training itself. Diet before, during and after tennis match differs and is carefully studied to help the player prepare, endure and recover from a match in the best possible way.
Of course, there is a big difference between an elite athlete and occasional one. You could be playing tennis for health benefits, as a part of your already diverse workout routine, or you could be scheduling friendly matches on weekends. In case you are a fitness junkie, you probably got your own nutrition plan going on. So, we put this blog post together for those who are either active or just play tennis recreationally, but don’t pay attention to nutrition very much. You cannot eat like a pro tennis player, because you’re, well, not one, but you can stick to some guidelines which are healthy eating guidelines, really.
Carbs are something that we all are trying to avoid in these days, mainly because of the weight gain (ladies), or because more proteins and less carbs can get you seriously ribbed (fellows). On the other hand, an elite athlete’s fuel supply comes precisely from carbs, so the lack of carbs can often affect their performance. Of course, if you are not a professional athlete, you cannot stuff tons of carbs down your face (nor can you go in full all-you-can-eat-protein mode if you are not hitting the gym), but you could get an inspiration from tennis players’ diet and create your own balanced easy and healthy meals.
Pasta is a real tennis player’s comfort food, and it’s good before a match because it raises energy levels. It is very mild-tasting, easy to digest, can be mixed with almost anything, can be prepared as a base for a salad, can be stir fried in the end with previously fried veggies, of it can be prepared in the oven. A great combo would be adding chicken or turkey meat. Fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds and wholegrains are important sources of vitamins and minerals, so you should definitely include them in your diet. Fats that you should choose are canola oil, olive oil or small amounts of butter. For snacks, you can have fruit (fresh or dried), salads (gazillion options), yogurt, rice cakes or smoothies.
As far as the match goes, you can always eat something rich in carbs before a match (couple of hours) to give you fuel, like a wholegrain bread sandwich with turkey breast and salad, muesli or porridge with fruit, pasta with beef in tomato sauce, chicken noodle soup, or avocado-cheese toasts. During a match, you can eat fruit, muesli or energy bars. Pro-athletes don’t have time for home-made cooking, but you should find time even though you’re nearly as busy. For example, there are hundreds of recipes for home-made energy bars, like the ones we found here. They have everything you need and are easy to make.
After a match, it is recommended to eat a lot of veggies. Other meals can be a sandwich with egg salad, different wraps with cheese, avocado, salad and meat (chicken, turkey), pasta or a heathy home-made pizza.
You probably heard it a thousand times, but yes, water is important. It is important for staying healthy and maintaining the function of cells, organs and systems in your body – heart, brain, muscles – all of it. It is especially important during physical activities, exercising or playing sport. Staying hydrated is important for playing tennis as the intensity (full body movements, repeated bursts of high-intensity running) and hot weather conditions lead to excessive sweating and fluid loss. Even if the match you are playing is not so intense and you take it easy, always make sure you keep a bottle of water nearby, so that you can sip it during the play. Sometimes you won’t notice how bad you need it until it’s too late and your body starts to shut down, or you’ll keep going unaware that organs could be a lot happier and that your performance could be a lot better.
Also, beware of sport drinks! Sure, electrolytes are important during exercise, especially after times of high-intensity exercise and lots of sweating. BUT, elite athletes burn a lot of liquid, blood sugar and electrolytes during trainings and tournaments, and there’s no way you should follow their ways. A casual athlete can stick to pure water, but can also include some healthy home-made sport drinks instead of drinking neon sport drinks rich in corn syrup. Again, pro athletes use them as a quick fix, because they use abnormal amount of energy, fluids and sugar, so you don’t need to sip this if you’re not burning as much. Healthy substitution would be coconut water (rich in potassium and sodium) with some fresh lime juice if preferred. You can make endless combinations of ingredients for your home-made drink, and you can always use different herbal teas, green tea, plain water or coconut water as the base, and then add salt, calcium or magnesium, fruit juice, herbs, ginger, citruses, natural sweeteners to the base and voila!
Tomato juice is also an excellent choice for players who are very active and break a lot of sweat. It has a little carbs, a lot of salt and water, and it is best consumed after the match precisely due to high salt level.
In the end, the words of wisdom: strive for balance in everything you do. And keep in mind that you are as healthy and energized as the stuff you eat make you. Tennis diet is just a good way to bring these things together.