Fuel Up for Tennis!

It’s very important for tennis players to have proper nutrition and hydration before getting on the court—what you eat and drink before you play tennis can have a big impact on how well you’ll play!

Have you ever encountered any of the following problems while playing tennis?

  • Feeling weak or light-headed, like you can’t concentrate very well on the game?
  • Feeling slow or lethargic—your legs feel heavy and you can’t make yourself move?
  • Having your mouth get really dry?
  • Getting a headache?
  • Getting muscle cramps?

These problems can be the result of improper nutrition and/or hydration, either before or during your match (or practice session).

In other words, to feel your best and play at peak performance, you need to:

  • Eat and drink the right things
  • Eat and drink the right amounts
  • Eat and drink at the right times

Note: This article provides very general guidelines, but you should always take into account your own health condition and dietary needs. Consult your doctor for specific advice!

Pre-Match Meal

If you will be playing a daytime or evening match, then about 4 hours before your match you’ll want to have a decent-sized meal, high in simple carbohydrates.  These are foods such as:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Cereal
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Your pre-match meal should consist of mostly carbohydrates, with a little protein.  For example, for a typical diet, your pre-match meal might be:

  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce and a meatball or two
  • A pasta dish with some chicken and vegetables
  • A turkey sandwich with cheese and/or vegetables

For an early morning match, you should have your main pre-match meal the night before.

Avoid having too much protein, and especially avoid high-fat foods that will weigh you down (for example, a hamburger or a large steak).

This meal will give you a good energy supply while you play. For this meal, it’s important to give yourself enough time to digest the meal so that by the time your match starts, you won’t feel full, but you won’t be hungry either.

Be sure to drink a normal amount of water with your pre-match meal.

Get to know your body so that you’ll know how to adjust the quantity of food you eat as well as the timing of your pre-match meal!

Pre-Match Snack

One to two hours before your match, have a snack with more carbohydrates. For example:

  • Energy bar
  • Banana
  • Oatmeal cookie
  • Nuts / dried fruit / trail mix

This will keep your energy reserves high without filling you up too much.

Drink a normal amount of liquids with your pre-game snack. You want to be reasonably well-hydrated when you start the match, but not over-hydrated.

During the Match

Once you start playing, you will start depleting the energy and water reserves you built up during your pre-match meal.

To keep providing your body the energy it needs, take a small snack during the change of ends every 2 or 4 games. For example, have a bite or two of an energy bar or a banana.

And depending on the weather, you should drink some water every 2-4 games as well. At a minimum you should have a few sips every 4 games. But if you’re playing singles, if the weather is hot or if your match is very competitive, you may need to drink a lot more in order to stay hydrated.

The real trick here is to get to know yourself and how much energy and fluids your body needs during a match. If you wait until you start feeling light-headed or your mouth gets dry, it may be too late to rebuild your body’s fuel and water store before the match is over. So listen to your body and plan ahead!

After the Match

After you’re done playing, it’s a good idea to drink more liquids and have a small snack, to start replenishing the nutrients and fluids you lost while playing.  For example, have some water or half a bottle of sports drink, and a small energy bar.

Further Reading

Here are some links with more information about sports nutrition and how it relates to tennis:

USTA: Match Day Nutrition

USTA: Pre-Match Nutrition

USTA: Nutrition During Play

USTA: What’s in the Food We Eat?