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Ask the High Performance Lab -- July 5

May 25, 2008 12:25 PM

Page Love is a sports nutrition and eating disorders consultant and a member of the USTA Sport Science Committee. © USTA
The medical opinions in USTA.com's Ask the High Performance Lab are responses intended for the average player. Please consult with your primary physician before beginning any new exercise program.

By Page Love, MS, RD, LD, CSCS

Q: I play adult league tennis and love it! I recently read something about this supplement people take to help improve the eyes capturing the ball faster. I lost the article. I think it was in this month's Tennis Magazine. Can you help me?

Page Love: Lutein, an antioxidant stored in eye tissue, was probably what was highlighted as the “new nutrient” for the eye. Lutein has recently been found to decrease macular degeneration – a condition where the retina of the eye begins to break down. Lutein is found in many foods that also serve as good sources of Vitamin A, another nutrient that plays an important role in vision. Lutein is found in especially high levels in kale, broccoli, oranges and eggs. Many multi-vitamins now contain lutein, although a recommended daily value has not yet been established for this nutrient.

Additionally, deficiencies of Vitamin A can decrease eyesight acuity and general eye health. Vitamin A is found naturally in deep greens and bright orange, red, and yellow vegetables – broccoli, spinach, carrots, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes. Fortified sources of Vitamin A include fortified milk and butter. Taking a well-balanced multivitamin that does not exceed 100% of the Daily Value for nutrients should help to ensure Vitamin A adequacy.

For more information on macular degeneration and other eye conditions visit the website for the Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute - http://www.clevelandclinic.org/eye/patient_info/diseases.asp.

Q1: I am a diabetic. I control my blood sugar level through diet and exercise. I avoid foods that have sugar or simple carbohydrates. I typically rely on protein for energy. What recommendations do you have?

Q2: I read about having a high carbohydrate diet for maintaining effectiveness on the tennis court. As a diabetic I have been encouraged in having a low carbohydrate diet to maintain my blood sugar level at around 100-120. However I have noticed that during my matches I feel like I am hitting a brick wall and do not have the energy to close out the close points or close matches. Any tips would be appreciated.

Page Love: A well-balanced diet, containing adequate fibrous complex carbohydrates such as wheat bread, brown rice, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables like corn, peas, beans, etc., is important for providing a tennis player with the muscle energy needed during play.

Despite popular fad diet approaches suggesting limited carbohydrate intake, a diet adequate in complex carbohydrates is still crucial, even for diabetic athletes. The key is to consume foods that are quickly broken down into simple sugars at the same time you eat other slower absorbing nutrients, such as protein and dietary fat. It is still advisable to limit simple sugar “snacks” between meals, but consuming naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruit or dairy products, along with other complex carbohydrates and lean proteins is an appropriate dietary approach for diabetic athletes. For example, an appropriate diabetic pre-match choice would be eating an apple with yogurt and peanut butter crackers.

Q: How much, what and when should I eat before a big match?

Page Love: Pre-match dietary choices should be higher in complex carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in dietary fat to allow quick digestion and absorption out of the stomach. The more time you have before a match, the larger the meal that can be tolerated. For example, if you have 3 – 4 hours before you play, a normal sized sandwich like a turkey sub would be appropriate, even with a fruit and/or dairy side. No matter how much time you have before your match, try to pre-hydrate with several cups of fluids like water, sports drinks, or decaffeinated beverages. If you only have 1 – 2 hours before matches, the volume, protein, and fat content of the meal will need to be limited. An appropriate choice with this timing limitation might be 2 tbsp of peanut butter on a bagel or a PowerBar with a piece of fruit.

Q: Your pre-match routine calls for complex carbohydrates with a little protein, which could be turkey or chicken. I understand an element in turkey tends to put you asleep and I have first experience that turkey slows me down during a match. Chicken is OK but why are you suggesting turkey before a match??

Page Love: Tryptophan is the amino acid often deemed to cause the “sleepy” side effect after consuming turkey. However, most turkey sandwiches are made with processed lean turkey products that are lower in tryptophan than the typical “whole turkey” you eat on Thanksgiving Day. The amount of tryptophan is a standard size turkey sandwich (3 ounce meat portion) should not impair your tennis performance. A well balanced meal that includes a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, a low-fat dairy product and a piece of fruit should not cause any more drowsiness than a lean ham or chicken sandwich.

Page Love is a sports nutrition and eating disorders consultant and a member of the USTA Sport Science Committee. She works frequently with the USTA and the WTA Women’s Professional Tour as well as the Atlanta Braves baseball team, US Synchronized Swimming, and US Figure Skating. She has led nutrition workshops for businesses, students, athletes and coaches nationwide and has lectured on eating disorders and sports nutrition at several universities. Love is a registered dietitian and an active member of Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, a practice group of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). She is an American College of Sports Medicine certified health and fitness instructor and a National Strength and Conditioning Association certified strength and conditioning specialist. Page also played Division I tennis at Baylor University.

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