Key sport foods and meal ideas to improve your performance and keep your immune system strong as we approach colder months on the court
By Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, USPTA
As we approach the colder time of the year and a potentially challenging flu season, it is crucial to keep your body strong. Nutrition can help!
An obvious starting point is hydration; don’t forget to hydrate just because it’s cold. Tennis players often don’t drink as much in cooler weather because of less visual sweat losses, but staying properly hydrated helps maintain endurance and power on the court. Drink two cups of fluid two hours before play, and another one to two cups before hitting the courts.
Consider some of the new flavored waters that may enhance your drinking volume such as Propel and Powerade fitness waters.
Foods to consider before you play
Oatmeal with added nuts and cinnamon — Hearty oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate, and it is high in fiber which provides you longer-lasting energy and protein. Adding nuts for more protein and a healthy (unsaturated) fat can help the oatmeal last you even longer on the court. If you sprinkle a little cinnamon, you will be adding even more immune-boosting antioxidants to help fend off winter viruses. Consider the following products to help you quickly choose a convenient pre-match meal: Quaker and Kodiak high-protein oatmeals in a cup.
High-carbohydrate energy bars — Energy bars have always been a top sport nutrition recommendation, and now there are some new kids on the block that can be grab-and-go pre-tennis high energy sources. Make sure the bar you choose has at least a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein to ensure that the bar is an appropriate pre-exercise choice and can be eaten as close as one hour and even 30 minutes before you walk out the door to play. Pro Bar and Kind Bar Energy Bar are two new products to consider.
Foods to consider after you play
Homemade and commercial hot chocolate with added protein for quick recovery — Hydrate and refuel with recovery protein immediately after play with homemade hot chocolate (made with milk, cocoa, and your choice of natural sweeteners). Milk naturally will provide protein and carbohydrates, and the cocoa provides antioxidants. Consider adding some additional instant milk powder, which is a natural source of whey protein and is quickly absorbed into muscles for recovery. You also can consider these two convenient, ready-to-consume, higher protein beverages that also can be heated: Fairlife Chocolate Milk and Ripple Protein Recovery beverage made with pea protein.
Hot foods that warm you after matches, but are also great recovery choices
Chilis and pizza; yes, pizza! — Use a slow cooker for homemade chili for the whole family to feed on at home, but given the COVID pandemic, put it in a thermos to enjoy as you watch your teammates play their matches. Use ground sirloin or ground turkey for a lean source of protein. Make sure to add beans because they are loaded with fiber and protein, which will provide you long-lasting energy and keep you warm! Warm foods speed your recovery. Here’s a simple recipe:
Classic Chili ingredients that will also boost your immune system:
- 8 oz of fresh diced onions, bell peppers, celery
- 1 tablespoon roasted garlic
- 1 1/4 lb ground turkey or ground sirloin
- 1 packet chili seasoning mix
- 1 (16 oz) can chili beans
- 1 (10 oz) can mild diced tomatoes
- 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
Pizza may not be at the top of every nutrition list, but for sports we give it an A ++ if you can top it with key recovery nutrients such as 2% cheese, bright colored veggies, and lean meat toppings like chicken, shrimp, and turkey pepperoni. Pizza provides plenty of complex carbs and sodium, and can provide lots of antioxidant nutrition if you add greens such as spinach, orange sweet peppers, and tomato sauce. Remember from previous articles, eating from the rainbow helps with obtaining key nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, and K, to help boost the immune system. During COVID times, you also can individually wrap pizza slices so that teammates can take a slice after the match without risking food contamination.
In conclusion, these are your key reminders for cold-weather sport nutrition:
- Drink plenty of water and consider flavored sport waters to enhance your consumption.
- Eat a variety of high complex carbohydrate foods, such as oatmeal and energy bars, before you play and chilis and pizza after you play.
- Consume a dairy or equivalent non-dairy alternative for quick recovery.
- Eat warm or hot food when possible to help warm your body.
- Eat lots of colorful produce during this time of year to maximize antioxidant nutrition.
Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, USPTA is on the USTA Sport Science Committee and is a nutrition consultant to both the ATP and WTA professional tennis tours. She runs a private practice in Sandy Springs and Buckhead, and can be reached at nutrfitga.com.