Contributor: Ben Wolfe and Mark Chung
In order to win at the game of tennis, a holistic approach is needed. This means you can’t just look at how you’re hitting your forehand. You need to consider everything from your warmups (see our post of Simple, Effective Warmups) to your on-the-court training, off-the-court training, mental focus (see our previous blog on focus) and of course now, nutrition.
Sloane Stephens, who just earlier this year was ranked as low as 957, battling a foot surgery rehab, went on to win this year’s Women’s U.S. Open Singles title and gave some insight to what helped her achieve the championship. After her sidelining surgery, she immediately realized she had to make a choice then and there about which direction to take her tennis career. She reflected on it by saying, “The only thing I knew I could do was try to control my attitude and my health.” This mindset allowed her to take control of her future by working on her health, specifically her diet. Her nutritionist gave her a game plan that was practical and easy to follow. “ She gave me a great plan with smart food strategies like when eating out, opting out of fried foods, eating until 80% full and always ordering extra green veggies on the side.” With the new and improved Sloane, the rest was history as she dominated the field to win the 2017 U.S. Open.
So the question is, what can be learned about nutrition to help you improve your chances in winning? Instead of going over what to specifically eat (as we all can react differently to food), let’s take a look at the science that helps determine what to eat. In this blog we’ll cover the science of eating before, during and after a match that help you prepare, endure and recover…therefore increasing your chances of winning and getting back on the court.
The Science of Eating Before a Match
The first thing you should do is make sure you’re well-hydrated. Most people think you only need to drink water after you’ve worked out, but this is wrong. You also need to be sure you’re well-hydrated going into the beginning of a match which means drinking at least 2 to 4 – 8 0z. glasses of water an hour before your match. Of course remember to drink during the match, but don’t forget to hydrate prior!
As for foods, eating some slow burning carbohydrates a few (1 to 3) hours before a match can get your glycogen levels full. This allows you to have the energy needed for you to put in a max effort on the court. Such foods include whole grains like pasta, rice, brown rice, a slice of peanut butter toast, quinoa, granola bars or a light turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. When you get closer to your match, having foods that are quick burning carbohydrates (avoid fats and protein) will allow you to ensure you are at a full tank before your match.
The Science of Eating During a Match
Your glycogen fuel, if full, will be able to last you about two hours of consistent exercise. This will obviously vary with the weather conditions and the physicality of your match. Be prepared to have something that your body can use for quick energy. Most people’s digestive system will shut down or slow down during physical exercise so having foods that have little fiber and a lot of fast burning carbs are a must for needed energy in your match. Bananas, raisins, yogurt, nuts (peanuts, cashews, walnuts, etc.), trail mix (skip the chocolate!) and energy bars (Cliff Bars and Powerbars) are a great example of this.
The Science of Eating After a Match
Drink MORE water! Just because you’re done with the match doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink water. Drink water! I like to dilute water with coconut water (no pulp) as coconut water has essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium and helps restore electrolytes. Toss those expensive, chemical-fueled “sports drinks” and opt for some coconut water instead. Coconut water also has sugars which, as we’ll explain below, is essential for recovery after a match in conjunction with protein.
Many players get it wrong when it comes to eating for recovery. The common thought of what to eat after a tough match is protein. While this will help build muscle tissue, it is not as important as another macro nutrient: carbohydrates. More simply, sugar. Your body does not care about protein until its glycogen levels are back up so if you eat only protein after a match, your body will take that protein and convert it to sugar, which is not easy and a waste of energy. Make it easier on your body by having something with sugar in it before or during your protein intake. This is why there is a lot of sugar and protein in recovery bars or drinks. As far as protein, you will need about 20 grams of protein. 20 g of protein is about 4 hard boiled eggs or a small chicken breast.
Words of Wisdom
The author of Samurai Diet, Nate Miyaki, sets a great foundation for the importance of nutrition. In his book, he looks at how many times someone works out compared to how many times someone eats in a given week. As you can guess, meals trump workouts in quantity, making it even more important to have a good diet that is geared towards your fitness goals. A true athlete looks at every meal as an opportunity to give the body the necessary fuel to either recover or perform at its best. It’s time for you to do the same!
How Open Court Club can Help
Check out the nutritionists/health coaches at Open Court Club to get a game plan that is tailored specifically to you. You can always message the nutritionist/coach first before purchasing a service to ask general questions about their approach to nutrition before you dive in and purchase one of these services. Having the right fuel can make all the difference in your preparation to give you the best chances to winning not only in tennis but also in having a healthy life.