Q. I am a 12 year old competitive junior player, playing national tournaments all around the country. Does eating a lot of junk food and not eating really healthy affect my tennis results? My parents are really trying to make me eat healthy and I really see no result.
A. Well, kudos to your parents, because they are probably trying to help you develop a healthy lifestyle, and this will guide more than just your tennis. I tend to think that eating healthily DOES help.
Andre Agassi is in his mid-thirties. Early in his career he used to eat at McDonald’s before matches and would drive miles out of the way to find an open Taco Bell. He was able to enjoy success because he also possessed other-worldly talent. Around seven years ago, he committed himself fully to fitness and healthy food choices and he has been able to extend his career at the top-level of international tennis because of this choice.
Ultimately, you need to make your own choice, but eating properly is going to give you a greater opportunity to succeed against other fit, determined athletes.
Q. What did Andy Roddick eat to keep going for so long at the 2003 Australian Open during that long quarterfinal match against Younes El Aynaoui? (Roddick won with a score of 4-6, 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19)
A. I’m not exactly sure if (or what) A-Rod ate during that epic match, but he certainly proved that he was fit enough to “go the distance.” He also showed the heart of a lion in that fifth set. Eating while playing can be tricky, and varies for each player. I have observed lots of professional players eating easy-to-digest bananas throughout matches, as well as various sports bars.
I can assure you that Roddick drank plenty of water throughout this match. In fact, he would have also been drinking some diluted sports drinks as well. After a match, it is recommended that players eat healthy carbohydrates (preferably within thirty minutes of the match’s completion). By doing so, this rapidly replenishes lost nutrients and aids in the recovery process for your next match (or training session).
Q. In the boys' 18s, tournaments generally allow no more than one hour between matches. I don't usually eat a big breakfast in the early morning but, before a tournament match, I'll eat a bagel and a banana and take bland crackers on the court with me (in case I feel I need to nibble on something, especially at the break before a third set). With only one hour between a first and second match, what should I eat to ensure my energy level remains high for the next match, without upsetting my stomach?
A. I think that you need to experiment through trial and error. There are nutrition experts who will tell you what is best, but ultimately everyone’s body chemistry is a little different. What’s good for you might make me feel sluggish, and what works for me might well upset your stomach.
I admire that you arrive for matches prepared with extra food in your gear bag. Chris Evert always used to carry a chocolate bar in one of her racquet covers in case she needed a little energy boost. It seems like you have chosen a more nutritious alternative. You might also consider packing an energy and/or a sports drink in your gear bag.
When you are scheduled to play two matches in a day and have only one hour between matches, try to force yourself to eat a little immediately after the first match ends even if you are not yet hungry. This will assure that you have ample time to digest the food and feel well prior to the start of your second match.