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Top FIVES in Nutrition Lessons Learned from COVID-19

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nutritious spread of water, green tea, kiwi, lettuce, banana, and apple

Top immune-boosting and food safety tips to keep in mind that are also good for your tennis performance as you return to play!

By Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, USPTA

So, we haven’t been able to play much tennis, but we have had time to work on our health and particularly our nutrition! Since we have been cooped up at home for months, perhaps many of you have taken the opportunity to do some self care, including improving your diet. We have been given an incredible opportunity to have more time to cook, to be creative with our choices, to take more time to eat mindfully (and in a relaxed way), and to better structure regular family meals.

I have been challenging tennis players to take advantage of this time and to focus on immune-boosting nutrition, not only to strengthen your body’s ability to fight the virus but to also help you heal any nagging sports injury or inflammatory issue that you might have. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Increase vitamin C intake, which helps strengthen lung tissue and helps fight infections, Choose one citrus fruit (or tomato) per day. Other high vitamin C foods are strawberries and kiwi.
  2. Increase vitamin D, an overall body immune booster vitamin, especially from fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, fortified A and D cow’s milk, or egg yolks.
  3. Increase zinc intake to help fight respiratory infections. Good sources are shellfish and lean red meats.
  4. In general, make sure you are eating more solid-color produce such as deep greens, red/orange choices daily (i.e. broccoli/spinach; red pepper/tomato; carrot/sweet potato). These choices contain a more concentrated content of nutrients overall.
  5. Increase probiotic foods, which strengthen the immune system. Focus on yogurts, especially kefir; sourdough bread; kombucha tea; miso soup; kimchi; and sauerkraut.

A good rule of thumb is to eat 5-8 fruits/vegetables/day to increase the full variety of key anti-inflammatory nutrients that our bodies need to fight any inflammation or illness. Remember that old adage of “eating from the rainbow daily.”

Many of my clients have reported wanting to eat more comfort foods during this down time. So, below are some behavioral tips that will help us to more fully enjoy our food that also can help promote normal fullness and help us with overall portion control. Take more time for extended mealtimes; you also can work on tuning in to the sensory characteristics of food and listening to your body’s hunger/fullness signals more completely. Start eating at your dining tables again and creating an enjoyable eating atmosphere. Here are some tips to help you tune into fullness and slow down your eating:

  1. Listen to enjoyable music during your meal and make your eating table colorful with favorite plates, a tablecloth, or a centerpiece.
  2. Slow down your eating by putting the food or fork down between bites, chewing thoroughly, taking a sip of a hydrating beverage, and pausing between bites. This is called “chaining,” the steps to slowing down our eating process.
  3. Try to eat with others because this allows you to speak between bites, which makes the mealtime last longer. And your meal will be more enjoyable when connecting with other family members!
  4. Pay attention to sensory characteristics of food, such as sight, smell, texture, and flavor. This helps to meet emotional cravings and more fully enjoy your food, and ultimately be satisfied.
  5. Take time to try a new recipe or meal choice that meets a craving you have been having. It is important to respond to our cravings to meet both our emotional and energy needs. For example, if you are craving pasta, this may be your body wanting a comfort food as well as needing a complex carbohydrate for fuel!

As we return to tennis, cleanliness will be more important than ever before. We can work on this with our shopping skills during this time as well as our handwashing skills for both before and after tennis play. Using any available soap, anti-bacterial or not, liquid or bar, is equally effective if you wash your hands correctly. The CDC provides a five-step plan to successfully wash hands:

  1. Wet
  2. Lather
  3. Scrub for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse under running water
  5. Dry well

If you are afraid to buy fresh foods and feel like you can’t shop as often as you would like, here are some tips for more shelf-stable grocery shopping for your performance eating plan:

  1. Shop for produce in season to stay safe; items like cabbage, carrots, and potatoes are always in season and more durable choices.
  2. If items look like they are losing freshness, you can cook them and freeze them; and make sure to have a back-up supply of frozen and canned veggies and fruits.
  3. Choose economical protein sources like beans, nuts, seeds, nut butter, low-fat dairy, vegetables, and less-expensive cuts of meats.
  4. Beans and lentils are always lower in cost than meat, and dried and canned foods are long-term shelf-stable.
  5. Keep up to date with the FDA news feed on food and COVID-19. Currently, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted via food.

Lastly, for overall shopping safety, consider the following safety tips. Definitely don’t go if you are in the high-risk groups but consider using a delivery service. If you decide to shop, limit your trips to once per week to limit exposure risk. Other considerations are suggested here:

  1. Go when it’s not crowded, and practice social distancing at the store entrance and in the store.
  2. Bring sanitizing wipes with you so you can clean any shopping carts or baskets you use.
  3. Gloves may not be of much use because if your gloves touch a contaminated product, they will just contaminate the next thing that is touched, but use hand sanitizer after going through the checkout.
  4. Once you get your groceries, disinfect all nonporous containers such as cans, bottles, and jars — glass, metal, plastic, etc., with everyday disinfectant wipes.
  5. After you’ve put away all of your groceries, disinfect all of the surfaces that your bags have touched. Generally, it’s a good practice to clean surfaces after any sort of use.

As we return to tennis, our new normal in how we approach our self care, especially our diets and cleanliness practices around food, will be different. Start practicing these tips now, and you will keep your body healthier and stronger as you start back with your tennis play.

Page Love is a sport dietitian and avid ALTA player. She runs a private practice in Atlanta and is a member of the USTA sport science committee and consultant to the men’s ATP and women’s WTA tennis tours. You can reach her at nutrifitga.com.