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Sport Nutrition Approaches For Your Power Tennis

Protein powder mixture and a large sports bottle

By Page Love, MS, RD, LD, CSSD, USPTA; and Tyler Arrington, Dietetic Intern

When it comes to achieving gains and building muscle, there are many sport foods and supplements that may work to enhance your tennis game.

Whether you’re a seasoned fitness enthusiast or just starting out on your muscle-building journey, adequate sport nutrition plays a big role in muscle-gaining ability and recovery strategies. So, what sport nutrition products could help you in this journey? Often referred to as “muscle builders,” these are sport food supplements that can be found in the foods we eat and are used to assist in the gaining of muscle to enhance performance, strength, and endurance. Most muscle builders have been studied for decades regarding athletic performance and some have been shown to enhance performance. The most popular muscle-building supplements we will update you on are creatine, branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and protein powders.

Creatine is a naturally occurring simple protein building block that is made by the body, but also can be consumed from eating meats, poultry, fish, and seafood. Once creatine is produced or consumed, it is stored and used as a nutrient for the muscle, brain, and other body tissues. Creatine is supplemented to build muscle in many “power” sports activities, such as weightlifting, football, track and field, etc., because it can improve muscle strength by promoting protein synthesis and development. Creatine also expedites the recovery process after exercise by encouraging muscle energy replacement. Creatine can provide improved power when performing quick body movements, so is it a good idea in tennis?

A daily intake of 3-5 grams of creatine, especially as part of one’s recovery routine, has shown to have no adverse effects in athletes long-term. Creatine dosage over 20 grams daily for more than three months is not recommended because of possible adverse side effects, including dehydration, which would be high risk to tennis players during the hotter months of the year. It is recommended to increase water intake by an additional 32 ounces daily to prevent dehydration that may occur with creatine supplementation.

Additional creatine side effects include muscle cramping and stomach upset when taking larger doses (over 20 grams a day). Creatine can be obtained through an adequate diet by consuming animal-based proteins, such as meat and fish, with herring (938 mg), pork (568 mg), salmon (551 mg), and beef (511 mg) having the highest amount of creatine per four-ounce serving. Consuming creatine through food allows you to intake other nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and ensures a more balanced diet. Bottom line: If you eat an adequate meat-based diet, you may not benefit from additional creatine supplements, and if you decide to supplement creatine, stay with lower doses and drink extra water to prevent dehydration.

Branched Chain Amino Acids
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a group of essential amino acids including leucine, isoleucine, and valine that need to be consumed through our diet because the body cannot make them. They occur naturally in legumes, beans, dairy, nuts, meat, fish, poultry, and tofu. BCAAs also are known to build and repair muscle tissues by increasing the rate of muscle building while decreasing the rate of muscle breakdown. This decreases muscle fatigue, supports recovery, and reduces injury risk. BCAAs improve our muscles’ use of energy during strenuous activity, keeping us energized during those long matches, improving muscle strength and overall endurance as well.

BCAA supplementation of 12 mg per kilogram (kg) of body weight daily is recommended for high-performing or competition days while 5 mg per kg of body weight is recommended for training days. BCAAs are best used after a workout or competition for replenishing muscle stores. Loss of coordination and headaches can occur with BCAA supplementation if large doses are taken. Additional side effects can include muscle cramping, nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and possible liver dysfunction. To prevent supplementation side effects, it is recommended to consume BCAA-rich foods such as turkey breast (7.3 g), roasted peanuts (7 g), lean beef (6.7 g), chicken breast (6.6 g), lean beef (6.3 g) per a six-ounce serving size. Bottom line: Again, BCAAs can easily be met through an adequate protein containing diet, but if you decide to use these for enhanced recovery, use moderate doses after tennis play!

Protein Powders
Protein is another critical macronutrient that is the most important recovery nutrient of all and is consumed through a normal training diet (naturally occurring in seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts seeds, soy products, and other various vegetarian meat alternatives). Protein is the building block of muscles and it helps repair, maintain, and increase the capacity of muscle mass. Adequate protein intake promotes an increase in strength and power for tennis. Protein supplies the muscles with amino acids and creatine as well to help build muscles after exercise, reducing injury risk. For healthy adults, the recommended intake of protein is 0.8 to 1.2 grams per kg of body weight. But for competitive tennis players, increasing protein up to 1.8 to 2 grams per kg of body weight can be helpful to meet full training and recovery needs. This equates to ranges as low as 50 grams per day, upwards of 200 grams per day depending on body size needs. Tennis players often take protein powders to meet their protein and recovery needs while training.

Protein powders can originate from multiple sources, including milk (casein or whey), egg, nut, soy, pea, rice, or hemp protein. High doses (above 40 grams or more in a single dose) can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, potential liver and kidney dysfunction, acne, increased thirst and dehydration risk, reduced appetite, and headaches. Protein is best absorbed when consumed through a diet of lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans). Not to mention all the added nutrients you will receive from whole-food proteins such as iron, zinc, and B12, all critical for recovery as well.

Higher-density protein foods (per 3-4 oz serving size) include chicken (27 g), lean beef (22 g), salmon (19 g), firm tofu (17 g), and low-fat cottage cheese (12 g). Keep in mind vegetarian proteins often are lower in density and it may take two times the visual volume of a vegetarian protein to come close to the same portion of a meat protein, especially for beans and tofu. Obtaining protein through a balanced diet rather than relying solely on supplements helps the body utilize the protein better because we usually can only absorb 25-30 grams per meal. When using protein powders, keep in mind your dietary intake of protein and utilize these mainly in immediate recovery after training or tennis play (15-45 minutes after). A protein smoothie or commercial protein drink, or just a large glass of milk containing anywhere from 15-30 grams of protein can enhance your recovery and assist in building additional muscle.

But do you need commercial muscle builders? Not only can these builders be expensive, but even after years of studying to accurately ensure efficacy, not all products pan out as being safe and effective. The natural intake of these nutrients through food sources has its unique advantages that are preferred over supplementation. Whole foods, such as meat and fish for creatine; lean meats, dairy products, and eggs for protein; and a balanced diet for BCAAs, offer a holistic nutritional approach. They not only provide the desired nutrients, but also come with a host of other essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber which promotes an overall well-being and healthier lifestyle. Additionally, obtaining these compounds from food sources is generally gentler on the digestive system and can be a more sustainable and affordable long-term option.

While supplementation can be a useful tool for those who require precise control over their nutrient intake, it should ideally complement, rather than replace a nutrient-rich diet. Ultimately, the choice between dietary intake and supplementation depends on individual preferences, specific training objectives, and dietary needs. Remember to consult with your physician if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have hypertension, kidney or liver dysfunction before taking any supplementation. Also consider consulting a sport dietitian when you are adjusting your training diet. Certified specialists in sport dietetics (CSSD) have years of experience working with athletes and have expertise in determining individual and medical nutrition needs.


Page Love is an avid ALTA participant and sport dietitian/nutrition advisor for the WTA and ATP professional tours. She holds a master’s in Sport Nutrition, serves on the USTA sport science committee, and works with players of all ages in her Sandy Springs practice. You can reach her at nutrifitga.com. Tyler Arrington, holds a master’s in Food and Nutrition from Bowling Green State University, is a dietetic intern, has a background in competitive volleyball, and hopes to work in the wellness and sport nutrition field upon becoming a registered dietitian.

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