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Tailgating Season Is In Full Swing

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Healthy tips for your ALTA team table

By Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, USPTA and Skylar Raine Smith, UGA Nutrition Student

What are the important components to consider when preparing for a tailgating theme table at your next tennis match? To create a training diet/snack table for a tennis match, focus on four, key training diet components: protein, carbohydrates, colorful fruits and vegetables, and fluids.

Protein is critical for muscle recovery after a match and helps with satiety/fullness throughout the day. Good sources of protein for a match include chicken salad, tuna salad, hard boiled eggs, and lean deli meat.

Complex carbohydrates are the main energy source for quick, high-energy tennis movements. Consider easily digestible, complex carbohydrates or grains/starches, such as pretzels, or high-carb energy bars (like Clif or Pro Bar meal bars) before matches. When there is a long wait to get on the court, complex carbohydrates are beneficial to stabilize blood sugar levels. Some better choices to include variety for a tennis tailgate include whole grains, breads, pastas, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Sports beverages also are key for quick energy before and in-between matches.

“Color” is recommended for fruit and vegetable options. Color-rich sources contain varying concentrations of key vitamins and phytonutrients that lessen muscle pain and aid in recovery and hydration. Blue- and purple-colored fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins which can help alleviate muscle soreness. Rich-color fruit and veggies also contain high water content which helps with hydrating a tennis player. A tennis ball-sized fruit or vegetable can contain a half-cup of hydrating fluids. Include multiple fruit and vegetable options on a crudité tray at your tennis tailgate to get an overall assortment of colorful foods for anti-inflammatory and muscle soreness benefits. Good choices are baby carrots, grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, broccoli, and multi-colored peppers.

Adequate fluids are essential for maintaining hydration and preventing heat illness. Tennis players should keep both water and sports beverages on hand during matches to replenish fluids and electrolytes lost through sweating. For a quick check on a player’s hydration, check urine color to prevent under-hydration or over-hydration — the goal is to have light-yellow color for good hydration pre-match.

The recommended ALTA table offerings for a tennis match day:

  • 2-3 hours prior: carb + protein + fat meal — ex., peanut butter & jelly sandwich or bagel, or turkey sandwich with fruit and 2 cups of water.
  • 30-60 minutes prior: carb snack — ex., pretzels or high-carb energy bar with fruit and 2 cups of water.
  • During, every hour: 30-60 grams of carb — ex., sports beverage w/electrolytes containing 100 mg sodium per 8 oz or 1 cup.
  • Within 30 minutes after: carb + protein snack — ex., chocolate milk + granola bar.
  • Within 2 hours after: carb + protein + fat meal — ex., sub sandwich with meat, cheese, veggies and 2 cups of water.

How can I properly and safely store my food?
When you are tailgating or storing food outdoors, it is important to consider the safety and stability of the food, specifically perishable foods. The temperature danger zone is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F where disease-causing bacteria grow most rapidly. Therefore, food should not be left in that temperature range for more than two hours, and no more than one hour if room/outdoor temperatures are above 90°F. The USDA promotes keeping hot foods hot (i.e., at or above 140°F and on warming trays, etc.) and cold foods cold (i.e., at or below 40°F and on ice). Foods needing refrigeration should be kept in a cooler with ice throughout the ALTA match tailgate. It is good practice to keep a cooler thermometer in the cooler with the foods to assure the outdoor temperatures are not raising the cooler temperature above 40°F. Shelf- or counter-stable foods are safe to keep out of a refrigerator or cooler. For example, pretzels, fruit, most breads.

What about alcohol in your ALTA tailgate?
A tennis player’s consumption of alcohol is something of which to be mindful. Alcohol is a depressant and dehydrates the body. A tennis player should be cautious of the metabolic, neurological, cardiovascular, and muscular effects of alcohol. Alcohol impairs performance and slows recovery. Thus, it is advised to eliminate alcohol consumption 48-72 hours before a match to lower risk of dehydration and heat illness after a match.

For players who are consuming alcohol after their match, it is recommended to keep a secondary beverage in hand that is hydrating to counter the dehydrating nature of alcohol, i.e., pairing beer with water. Also consider NA beers which are good sources of carbohydrate and sodium without alcohol.

Sample snack and meal ideas for your ALTA tailgate table
What to keep on hand for pre-and post-exercise fueling (3-4 hours prior):

  • Meat/fish/egg, cheese, vegetable wrap or sandwiches
  • Pasta salad
  • Chicken salad or tuna salad
  • Yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt, granola, nuts, and fruit
  • Hummus, pita chips, and veggie sticks
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwich
  • Bagels w/light cream cheese (especially for earlier matches)

What to keep on hand for pre-exercise fueling (30-60 minutes prior):

  • Trail mix with grains like cereal, pretzels; proteins like nuts,
  • High-carb energy bars — Clif, Pro, Gatorade Fuel Bar
  • Sports drinks w/electrolytes, especially sodium and some energy

What to keep on hand for refueling in-between and during exercise:

  • Sports drinks that contain sodium
  • Fruit
  • Granola bars such as Nature Valley Bars or Kodiak
  • Pretzels
  • Peanut butter crackers

What to keep on hand for post-exercise recovery (within 30 minutes):

  • Chocolate milk and granola bar
  • Apple and nut butter
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Turkey jerky and grapes

Other snack and meal ideas for the spectators are:

  • Chili
  • Baked potatoes
  • Fruit salad
  • Wheat crackers and cheese
  • Veggie tray and dip
  • Trü frü — dehydrated fruit with dark chocolate


 Page Love is an avid ALTA participant and sport dietitian/nutrition advisor for the WTA and ATP professional tours. She has served on the USTA sport science committee for 25 years, and has a private practice in Sandy Springs. You can reach her at nutrifitga.com. Skylar Smith is a dietetic intern with the University of Georgia Dietetics Practicum program. She is a Double Dawg, completing her bachelor’s in Dietetics and pursuing her master’s in nutrition. Skylar works with University of Georgia Performance Nutrition and looks forward to working in sports dietetics and wellness nutrition soon!

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