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Top Five Nutrition Goals To Improve Your Tennis Performance In 2020

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A plate of fruit next to a pair of dumbbells and a measuring tape.

By Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, USPTA

New Year’s resolutions tend to have a short lifespan, typically because they aren’t realistic or specific. Wintertime or “off season” is a great time to work on basic sport nutrition training diet goals that can enhance your mixed-season tennis and spring-to-summer ALTA performance. Start with simple goals and be specific. Develop obtainable and realistic behavioral goals and use these basic sport nutrition guidelines to provide a priority list for your tennis training diet:

1. Improve your hydration in the winter months
In the last issue of Net News, we reviewed cold-weather sport nutrition reminders. A common sports nutrition error is to not hydrate fully during the colder months. So, get a head start on one of the most common causes for poor performance — not to mention cause of heat illness in the summer months. Work on your off-court hydration this winter to prepare your body for spring and summer tennis. Aim for at least two liters off court for women and closer to three liters off court for men. These beverages can include water, milk, juice, smoothies, and decaffeinated coffee or tea. Don’t forget to hydrate well closer to practice/match time by slowly sipping on one liter of water for the last two to three hours before playtime. And, don’t forget to check your urine color. Lighter “lemonade” tints to urine are the standard for being well-hydrated.

2. Get serious about pre-fueling for improved on court performance
Many ALTA players rush to matches or practices without appropriate fueling, whether they’re playing after work or school, or on the way to a weekend match. A pre-tennis performance snack can determine how well your match or practice performance goes, which is vital in reaching a new performance peak. Being consistent and timely, as well has choosing the right food, is critical. Enjoy a snack high in carbohydrates, especially a complex carbohydrate, such as a healthy granola bar, or energy bar, such as the new Kind Krunch granola bar, 30 minutes before match time for a healthy and quick pre-fueling choice.

3. Recovery snacks are essential for rebuilding muscle and allowing you to peak perform continuously day after day
Post-workout snacks steady your hunger and help re-build muscle. Snacks higher in protein are key. Chocolate milk is an easy go-to; a popular brand to consider is Fairlife with lower sugar levels and higher protein, as well as being lactose free! You also can try sample packets of vegetarian protein powders like Vega One or Orgain, and add them to home-made recovery smoothies to benefit from a variety of food group nutrients such as anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables and dairy or dairy alternatives, which will help you to meet your calcium and Vitamin D needs. Overall aim is to get 15-25 grams of protein within 30-45 minutes after play.

4. Work on basic sport nutrition balance
Try to make every meal complete with at least three of the major food groups that supply key macronutrients, particularly sources of both carbohydrate and protein. Having a healthy balance of a variety of foods throughout the day can help maintain energy and build muscle to help you keep your training goals. Enjoy a variety of dairy products, fruit, and veggies during meals and snacks; focus on having a protein, carbohydrate, and fat source at every meal. This simple concept can help you feel full of energy for your next practice or match. Simple examples of sport performance meals to consider are:

  • Overnite oats with yogurt and colorful fruit, or egg wraps/sandwiches with veggies for breakfast
  • Whole grain wraps with lean luncheon meat or tuna with lettuce and tomato, or a bowl meal that contains whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or legumes over a bed of lettuce and raw veggies with a lean meat toppings such as grilled chicken or salmon for lunch
  • Lean grilled or roasted meats, including more fish options, loin cuts of red meat, or poultry choices combined with at least two colorful vegetables filling half of your plate and smaller portion of grains — and experiment with new choices in the New Year such as farro or lentil pastas.

5. Explore new sport foods in the New Year
Explore new products such as sport beverages, electrolyte gels, chews, on-court snacks, and electrolyte tablets. Try different brands and flavors to see what helps your performance the most. Remember to try these out before practice vs for match play the first time. There may be an anxiety or nervous elements to match days that may throw off your gastro-intestinal tract, so knowing what works for your performance is key. Here are some examples of popular science-based products that you may want to experiment with this winter:

  • Body Armour — The new kid on the block for sport beverages that is more natural (based on natural fruit juices) but contains electrolytes. Also consider Liquid IV if you have had frequent muscle cramps. This is similar to Pedialyte and comes in handy sachets to add to .5-liter bottles to better meet your sodium losses.
  • Gu or Clif Shot gels or chews — These can be used at change over, especially the second hour of play during long practices or matches, to help you better meet your electrolyte needs and help with energy boosts in an easily digestible form.
  • Honey stinger waffles and Pro Bar bites are both higher carbohydrate, but portable energy options. They may be ideal when you are craving more and needing more than a sport beverage, chew, or gel when you are training for longer durations or at higher intensities.
  • Nuun Electrolyte tablets — These are a great option for a lower carbohydrate, moderate electrolyte option for lower-temperature electrolyte needs on the court. These also are great for general use during day hydration to better meet your electrolyte needs.

Page Love is an avid ALTA participant and sport dietitian in private practice in the Atlanta area and also a consultant to both the WTA and ATP professional tennis tours. She is a member of the USTA Sport Science Committee. You can find her at nutrifitga.com.