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 order 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 and restrictions. Consult your doctor for specific advice!

Pre-Match Meal

For an afternoon or evening match, you should have a moderate-sized meal about 4 hours before the match.

For an early morning match, you should have a moderate to large meal the night before.

Either way, the goal of the pre-match meal is to give you a good energy supply while you play.  This meal should be 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
  • Or, a pasta dish with some chicken and vegetables
  • Or, a turkey sandwich with cheese and/or vegetables

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

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.

If you are playing a tournament, league match or championship event where your match might get delayed, be sure to bring extra snacks and keep eating a little bit every so often, so that you will keep your energy reserves high while you’re waiting for your match to begin.

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 at least during the change of ends. 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 thirsty, 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, you should begin your post-match recovery with three goals in mind:

  • Start replenishing the fluids and electrolytes that you lost by sweating while you were playing
  • Start replacing muscle fuel (carbohydrates) that you burned while playing
  • Add some protein to begin rebuilding muscle tissue that was torn down during exercise

For example, right after your match, have half a bottle of sports drink (Gatorade or similar) plus some water and a small energy bar.  Then a little later, have a well-rounded meal to help your body stock up on nutrients.

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: Nutrition For Recovery

USTA: What’s in the Food We Eat?

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