Beat the heat: Cooling and hydration tips for tennis players

USTA Sport Science Committee | August 15, 2022

When the air temperature is above 95 degrees, you can make up to 60 mistakes per hour: Hydration, fueling and cooling improperly can have negative consequences for a tennis player's overall health. Beat the heat with these tips, and you'll be sure to be able to give your best effort to beat your opponent on court, too. 


The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, but rather to provide general information. Always seek the advice of your medical healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding heat and hydration recommendations.

Hydrate in advance

Dehydration can affect a tennis player’s performance in less than an hour, even sooner if the athlete comes into the practice session or match dehydrated. To avoid this pitfall, begin and maintain proper hydration practices as many as five or six days prior to competition. Upon waking, drink 12-16 ounces of water to begin the hydration process


On match day, drink anywhere from 12 to 16 ounces of water to begin the hydration process, and drink another 12 to 16 ounces of water, electrolyte drink or juice between 60-90 minutes before going on court. Ten minutes prior to the match, consume another eight ounces of water or sports drink.


Remember this guideline: drink consistently, not just when thirsty. The body may be 2% dehydrated by the time thirst is experienced. For every percent of body weight that is lost during play, an athlete’s core body temperature can rise by 0.5°F. This results in the athlete’s heart working harder by 3-7 beats per minute at the same workrate.

During practice or match play, drink 4-8 ounces (4-8 normal swallows or one-fourth to one-half of a full regular-sized bottle) for a light to medium sweater and 8-16 drink (8-16 normal swallows or one-half to three-fourths of a full regular-sized bottle) for a heavy sweater, of water or electrolyte-enhanced carbohydrate fluid at every changeover. This is approximately 32-60 ounces of fluid per hour. (Don't know what kind of "sweater" you are? Learn more about sweat rate here.)


Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol or carbonation are not as effective as sports drinks in rehydrating the body. In addition, drinks that contain more than 7-9% carbohydrates (19 grams per 8 oz., or 48 grams per 20 oz.) may slow the rate at which fluid is absorbed, and are not recommended during exercise. An ideal sports drink will contain between 6-8% carbohydrates and electrolytes to help replenish lost nutrients during heavy training or match play.


Adding salt to food or on-court sport drinks (either 3 small packets or 1 large packet) can help athletes who need to replace fluid or sodium more aggressively. 

Fueling: Carbs are King

When fueling, you want to consume the foods that are going to give you enough energy. These include homemade meals with fresh ingredients like egg whites, baked potatoes, whole wheat pastas and breads, skinless grilled chicken, lean ground meats and fresh fruit and vegetables. 


A quick tip to remember is make sure your meals are high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat. Have your first meal like this (don't forget the fruit and veggies!) two to four hours before you play. Then, 30-60 minutes prior to play, have a snack like pretzels, jelly beans, protein or granola bars, or fruit with a sports drink, gels and water.


During the match, you'll want to take in 30-60 grams of carbs per hour by consuming sports drinks, gels, chews or pretzels with water.


After the match and off the court, have another snack that's high in carbs, moderate in protein and low in fat within 30 minutes of the match ending. (Low-fat chocolate milk is an ideal recovery drink!) Consume a meal within two hours of play with 30 or more grams of carbs and 6-20 grams of protein.


Stay cool, but not frigid

Keeping the body cool before, during and after practice or competition is helpful in maintaining an appropriate body temperature. 


Keep your body cool before the match by staying in an air-conditioned room. An hour before you head on court, use an ice vest, ice blanket, or ice towels for 15 minutes, and later, take a quick 5-minute dip in a cool-pool or a cold shower 30-40 minutes prior to the match. For the maximum benefits of combined internal and external cooling, consume 8-20 ounces of slushy slowly 30 minutes prior to match.


There are many ways to stay cool during a match, starting with the gear you take on court. Wear light-colored, wicking material and a breathable hat, and change clothing, including socks, at a set break. Above your head, use an umbrella if available. Use ice sausages around the neck, ice towels in the lap, and ice vests around the back, plus ice packs under arms and in the groin.


After the match, pop in the ice bath for 5-10 minutes, and then take a cold shower for the same amount of time. Water temperature of 35°F to 59°F has been found to be most beneficial. Continue your recovery in an air-conditioned area.

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