Basic Nutrition for Tennis Players

The following article was prepared with the help of Page Love, owner of NutriSport Consulting. The USHSTCA advises the reader that sports nutrition is an evolving discipline and that this article was prepared using the best interpretation of the information currently available.


Years ago, steak and eggs were the training table choice of top athletes as they prepared for competition. Little did these players know that these protein-rich foods sat in their stomach and were not available until well into the third quarter or final set!

If you've been following the latest dietary information which has been inundating talk shows, magazines and newspaper articles you've heard about burning fat aerobically. But how should you eat for sports activities, many of which, like tennis, are anaerobic?

Following are tips for smart eating if you want your body to perform its best during activity.

Eat Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary food for muscle contraction, and therefore, the most important nutrient for peak athletic performance. Complex carbohydrates are more beneficial than simple carbohydrates, so stay more within this group.

Proteins can be eaten in moderate quantities three or more hours before your activity, but stay away from fat, which can cause gastro-intestinal distress. Also, reduce sodium intake before your activity - - salt will make it harder for fluids to get of your stomach.

When to Eat?

As you get closer to activity, lessen your fat and protein intake. Dinner the night before should be high in complex carbohydrates. The day of your activity, you may want to consider grazing - - eating smaller quantities several times throughout the day. Energy bars, muffins, fruits and vegetables are a great way to keep energy levels up.

Familiarity Breeds Content

Do not experiment with foods on game day. Try new foods before practice matches or fun runs.

Fast Food Choices

Pizza is high in complex carbohydrates. Stay with vegetable toppings and keep away from meat, which will cause fat content to soar. Salad bars offer lots of complex carbohydrate choices, and a baked potato is right on target. Again, stay away from toppings high in fat, such as dressings, prepared salads (potato, pasta, cole slaw, etc.), bacon bits, sour cream, cheese and butter.

The Candy Bar Myth

Many weekend warriors still believe that a dose of sugar immediately before a match will give them extra energy. Actually, eating a candy bar before or during your activity can actually cause a rapid increase in blood-sugar level, which causes you to exhaust quicker. And many candies, especially those which contain chocolate, are high in fat.

Pre-Competition Meal

•The meal should be small in portion sizes and calorie level (500-800 calories).

•The meal should be predominantly high in complex carbohydrate foods that are low in fiber (cereals, breads, pastas).

•The meal should consist of foods that are well-tolerated and familiar to the athlete.

•The meal should be consumed approximately three hours before the athletic event and should be accompanied with proper fluid intake (one to two glasses along with the meal).

•Water-based vegetables will help with hydration.

Your body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. Water molecules are absorbed into the muscles as carbohydrates are converted in glycogen. Limiting fluid intake, therefore, would limit your ability to store glycogen.

Remember, these guidelines are to help athletes eat in such a way that benefits peak athletic performance. In addition to increased carbohydrates before activity, your body needs both fat and protein to function on a day-to-day basis, and a deficiency in your diet of either of these important nutrients can lead to health problems.

Foods high in complex carbohydrates

Pasta Rice Crackers Muffins
Cereal Potatoes Rice Cakes Breads
Vegetables* Bagels Popcorn Grits
Oatmeal Pretzels Waffles Pancakes

*Starchy vegetables are best (corn, lima beans, peas, chili beans, etc).

Foods high in simple carbohydrates

Fruits and juices Yogurt Candy Chocolate
Cake Cookies Colas Frozen desserts
Graham crackers* Gingersnaps* Fig newtons* Vanilla wafers*
Sherbet* Frozen yogurt* Sugar-free pudding*  

*Better, low-fat choices in this group