By Page Love, MS, RDN, LD, CSSD
No matter your age, complex carbohydrates provide the best nutritional fuel for quick tennis moves on the court. Whether it’s pasta, energy bars or anything in between, all tennis players need to determine what works best for their schedule and cravings. I encourage all players to graze on high-quality carbohydrate fuels all day long, especially juniors. Breakfast, school lunch and snacks all fill the “tank” for after-school and after-work tennis action.
At a minimum, most players need a complex carbohydrate choice of approximately 1 to 2 cups at each meal and 1/2 to 1 cup at snack time. Good choices include cereal or a bagel at breakfast; sandwich bread at lunch; pretzels, crackers, trail mix or high-carb energy bars at snacks (look for 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates and moderate protein content of 5 to 10 grams for pre-match choices); and, pasta, potatoes or rice at dinner. If you prefer gluten-free options, look for corn- or rice-based cereals, bread or snack products. There are also a number of gluten-free bars, including the Kind and Clif brands.
Players should be hydrating all day to prepare for the court as well. Consuming 1 to 2 cups of hydrating (decaffeinated) fluids with every meal or snack can keep the average player reasonably hydrated. A body-specific hydration guideline to determine the number of ounces you should consume during the day is this formula: body weight in pounds multiplied by .7 will provide the average number of ounces of hydrating fluids an exercising person should consume in a day. The latest science on hydration is to monitor status by urine color, maintaining light yellow or lemonade-colored is the goal.
What about the timing of complex carbohydrates and hydration before playing? Most players will need a carbohydrate-based meal two to three hours before a match with a complex carbohydrate snack within one hour of the competition. Aim to consume a mid-afternoon snack during your workday or for a child to have a snack during the last school period if they are hitting the courts after school. Aim to consume 2 to 3 cups of hydrating fluid at lunch, as well as 2 cups of fluid in the pre-tennis snack. Ideal choices are bottled water or sports beverages. I also suggest combining complex carbohydrates with light protein sources and fresh or dried fruits with the pre-play snack to hold the tennis player’s energy level slightly longer into play.
Snacking Options and Brand Name Ideas for Tennis Players
• Granola bars (Kind, Nature Valley and Kashi)
• Trail mix that contains complex carbohydrates such as almonds, dry roasted peanuts, dried cranberries, chopped dates and/or granola (Kind and Bare Naked)
• Bagels with peanut butter (Thomas or Udi’s bagels)
• Carrot or celery sticks with hummus (Sabra or Tribe individual hummus)
• Whole-grain cereal and milk (Multigrain Cheerios or Corn Chex)
• Whole-grain crackers and peanut butter or pretzel peanut butter nuggets (Lance whole wheat cracker and peanut butter packs; HK Anderson peanut butter pretzels)
• Popcorn and pretzels (Orville Redenbacher, Snyder’s and Glutino)
• Low-fat soup stored in a thermos (Campbell’s Chicken Noodle or Chicken and Rice)
Add any of the above to a fresh or dried fruit for additional carbohydrate, fluid, vitamin C and electrolytes to make a more balanced and complete snack combination.
What about recovery for the tennis player? This has been an exciting research area for the last five years in sport nutrition. Players should aim to consume a high protein snack within 30 minutes of exercise either in beverage form, such as chocolate milk, or in a solid form combined with a fluid source, such as an energy bar. Hydration, energy, sodium, and protein intake is also key because players need to make up for sweat losses and to help rebuild energy reserves as well as rebuild muscle mass after long matches. For those who sweat a lot, an additional sports beverage is beneficial.
Post-fueling Protein Snacks and Brand Name Ideas
• Peanut butter (Jif to Go or Justin’s pouches)
• Nut packs (Emerald or Blue Diamond)
• Nut bars (Kind or Lara)
• String cheese (Sargento or Organic Valley soy)
• Cottage cheese (Breakstone)
• Yogurt (Greek brands, such as Chobani or Fage, have more protein)
• Chocolate milk (Organic Valley or Soy Silk individual cartons)
Finally, it is important for tennis players to finish the day with a well-balanced recovery meal within two hours after the match. The quicker that meal is consumed, the better chance it has of maximizing muscle glycogen stores for the next day’s play. Balanced meal choices should include complex carbohydrates with lean proteins and garden vegetables. Complex carbohydrate choices include pasta, potatoes, rice, starchy vegetables (corn, peas, legumes) and alternative grains (quinoa, barley or couscous). Combine them with lean protein sources (grilled meats, fish or tofu) and garden vegetables rich in color (spinach, kale, carrots, peppers, squash or tomatoes/tomato sauces).
Remember, fueling your body for tennis involves eating frequently and choosing high-energy meals and snacks.
Love is a sport dietitian and president of Nutrifit Sport Therapy Inc. She is also a nutrition consultant with WTA/ATP Tours, as well as a USTA Sport Science Committee Member. For more information, visit nutrifitga.com or call 770.395.7331.