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Match-Day Nutrition

Q. I am 6' 3" and 250 lbs. I have competed in football, basketball, boxing and have run a few 5K's, but I’m still a bit overweight for my height. Does anyone have any match-day tennis nutritional tips they can share? Should I be carb loading the night prior, drinking Gatorade after my match rather than during, etc.? I cannot stomach any fruits, so I am open to all suggestions.

From Dedric W. of Houston, TX

I am a 3.0 player who is studying to become a registered dietitian. It is important to be well fueled and hydrated before, during and after your match. The easiest indicator of your hydration status is to look at the color of your urine. Your urine should be pale yellow or clear. If it has a dark color, you are dehydrated.

Assuming your match is in the morning, eat a high carbohydrate dinner and drink extra fluids on the day before your match. High carbohydrate foods include potatoes, rice, breads and pastas. Sweet potatoes, brown rice and whole grain breads and pastas are more nutritionally dense, so they might be better choices. Yogurt, beans, lentils, legumes and tomato-based sauces like marinara or spaghetti sauce are also good high carbohydrate foods.

It is important to eat two to three hours before your match, but be sure to eat things that are easily digestible. A light breakfast that you are familiar with is a good choice. Energy bars, sports bars and fruit smoothies, if you can tolerate them, are also good breakfast choices. During the match, consume sports drinks, energy bars, sports bars and gels, fig bars, cookies, graham crackers or pretzels. Be sure to drink water with the solid foods during your match, too, so that they are easily digested.

It is very important to eat a high carbohydrate meal as soon as possible after your match. High carbohydrate meal choices can include foods previously listed for the dinner on the day before your match. Seafood, poultry or roast beef can be added to before and after match meals to provide protein for building and repairing muscle. Also, be sure to rehydrate with water and sports drinks after your match. Soups, and if you can tolerate them, fruit juices or watery foods, such as watermelon and grapes, are very good choices to help with rehydration.

Since you can't stomach fruits, you could be deficient in some important vitamins or minerals. Therefore, I recommend you take a multivitamin supplement, even on days that you don't play tennis.

From Sarah of Acton, MA

I don't think you need to go crazy with the carb loading the night before a match. Eat a sensible, well-rounded meal, and get a good night's sleep. Gatorade is great if it is really hot, but remember it contains a lot of sugar. I also eat bananas, nuts and peanut butter sandwiches on hot days. If the heat is extreme, start hydrating before you play -- dehydration can cause severe cramping through the calves and hamstrings.

From Phil M. of Houston, TX

On match day, if you are successful, you might play two or three matches, and your nutrition needs change from match to match. About two hours before the first match of the day, eat proteins and carbs (i.e., two eggs, toast and/or potatoes). Don't do the grease (bacon or sausage), caffeine or any carbonated beverage. I would also take a multivitamin with your breakfast, as it rounds everything out. Stick with water during the match. You can have some Gatorade, but not too much.

If you win and have to play another match within two hours, your body doesn't really have time to digest a full lunch. Since you can't stomach fruit, and that's too bad because bananas are great for this situation, you need something already broken down like a protein/carb shake (a smoothie is perfect) and lots of water. During the second match, you should increase the sports drink a bit more than just water. If you ever have to play a third match, eat a power bar or whatever your stomach can take at this point.

From Jan S. of Middletown OH

I always have peanut butter on whole grain toast before a match. I have tried many things, but this works best for me. The carbohydrate loading the night before only seems to be of benefit if you have a very early match the next day.

From Andy J. of Vernon, AL

I have found it’s best to have a good meal the night before a match. I use a steamer for fresh veggies and add either chicken or fish. Scallops, tuna and salmon steaks are also really good. I add okra, summer squash, mushrooms, Vidalia onions and snow peas. Put everything in a steamer for 30-45 minutes, or if you use a grill, put the veggies in aluminum foil with a little bit of olive oil and seasoning. Italian dressing works fine for the scallops. The cooking time for the veggies on a medium temperature grill is the same, but the fish only needs 15 minutes. Also, lay off the caffeine -- try crystal light in water instead.

If you play before lunch, get out your blender about 1.5 hours beforehand. Use a cup of fat free milk, two scoops of a high quality protein shake mix, a little flax seed and some ice. If you did like fruit, you could also add a banana and frozen strawberries or peaches to the shake. Have a protein bar about 30 minutes before you play with some water. I sip water through the first set and a sports drink through the rest of the match.

From Helen Y. of Denver, CO

I'm a small woman in my 30s with a tendency toward the shakes when not well fed, so game-day eating has become a bit ritualistic for me. Here's what I eat, although you may need to adapt it for a person of your size. The day before a match I eat a hearty dinner so I'm not too hungry when I wake up and drink a lot of water.

Evening Match: For league matches, I eat breakfast (cereal with berries and nuts) and the same meal for lunch each week -- a Qdoba chicken burrito with black beans rice, salsa and guacamole. Around 4 p.m. I have a nutrition bar and a piece of fruit. Canned pineapple is a favorite, as it has the added benefit of having anti-inflammatory properties. Substitute half a Gatorade, a glass of juice or a yogurt for the fruit.

Morning Match: Two hours before match time, my breakfast is a bowl of real oatmeal with added protein powder, blueberries and almonds on top. Another option is almond butter and jam on hearty wheat bread. About 30 minutes after the match, I eat a big lunch, like a Qdoba burrito

During the Match: Drink Gatorade or a similar drink throughout, along with lots of water.

From Wendy W. of Thousand Oaks, CA

I hydrate the day and night before a match. I have tried eating an energy bar right before a match, and it does give instant energy, but I found myself feeling sluggish about an hour later. Now I make sure I eat a meal several hours before, and if I need extra energy during a match, I eat a banana. The banana does not seem to have the sugar burn-out that the energy bars do.

Q. "I'm a men's 3.5 player, and I just began playing in local tournaments. I'm just wondering what I'm supposed to be eating before a match and how long before a match I should eat. Thanks!"

From Kai, Lake Balboa, CA:

Food is fuel for any athlete. Just like the quality of fuel determines how well a car runs, the type of food you choose to eat prior to a match will determine how well you perform. That being said, you want to concentrate on healthy carbohydrates for your immediate energy source. Have some whole wheat pasta with veggies if it's dinner time, or if you just need a snack prior to a match, try a healthy energy bar like a Clif Bar. They have over 40 grams of carbs. And don't worry about weight gain because if you're playing a competitive match, you'll burn it all off and then some.

As far as the time element, wait at least a half hour after eating a heavy meal to start playing. It varies from person to person – some may need more like an hour – but the general rule of thumb is one-half hour. If you're just snacking, 15 minutes should suffice, and it might also be a great idea to keep energy bars and bananas or oranges on hand to give you an added boost during your match. And most importantly, stay well-hydrated!

Make sure to follow up your match by eating some healthy protein. You've got to jump start those muscles into repair.

Hope this helps!

From Kenny S., Los Angeles, CA:

The night before, load up on carbs because they will work for your body well the next day and give you a pre-match sleep.

Before the match, water, proteins, a burger without the bread, cucumbers… and please don't use any human growth hormones. I have been in the game for years – never went that way, never will.

Train, be fit, be ready before you want to be a winner and a real good tennis player. But carbs the night before, and proteins, fluids. Gatorade, I like. Sharapova seems to have a drink every time her dad makes a hand gesture.

OK, go improve your game, 3.5 to a 4.0. Study the strokes, the movement, the pure toughness it takes to be a great tennis player, singles and doubles!

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Ian, there are many views on this subject. “No Mass NO Mass” are the words of the Hands of Stone against Sugar Ray. Obviously, eating a large meal before any strenuous activity is not wise. Generally, an hour is sufficient. However, know your body; it will tell you when.

It is my belief that maintaining a daily nutritional regiment of the three basic food groups is important. Two days prior to a match, load up on whole wheat carbs. More important is fluids. You must stay hydrated. Drink at lease 80 ounces of water throughout the day. If you must drink power drinks, such as Gatorade, etc., cut them by three parts water. Eat small amounts of fruit on your changeovers, and drink throughout the match.

Stay away from alcohol, caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, etc.). If you are taking a prescribed diuretic, drink even more water.

These should be a daily routine for most active tennis players. Match day has its own problems. Why add to them with a change in diet?

Live to play, eat to live. Enjoy.

From Karl K., Greene, NY:

About an hour and a half to two hours before a match, I eat a banana, a PBJ on whole wheat, and I drink a glass of milk. I don't know what a nutritionist would say about that, but it's worked well for me.

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