Requiring a mixture of physical and mental skills, tennis is an intermittent sport with short bursts of high intensity activity, making it highly dependent on carbohydrate as a fuel source. At an elite level, the demands of the tournament circuit and the potential for prolonged matches can result in nutritional concerns for players. Multiple matches during tournament play can create challenges for efficient and effective fuelling and recovery.
To meet energy demands, elite level tennis players normally consume 6-10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass each day. This helps to ensure glycogen stores are up, but like endurance athletes, if match play is expected to last for longer than two hours, players should aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour during play.
On a daily basis, in addition to these targets for carbohydrate intake, those competing and training at a high intensity and duration are recommended to consume protein intakes at around 1.6g per kilogram per day, with fat intakes not exceeding 2g per kilogram per day.
You often see elite players drinking fluids at every change-over. This is to help maintain hydration, and values recommended depend on the weather. It is recommended to consume 200ml of fluid containing electrolytes (dissolved salts) in mild to moderate temperatures of below 27°C. Although not typical of our UK climate, if play occurs in temperatures above this, players should aim to drink at least 400ml.
Below, we’ve researched into the diets of top tennis players; and Louise Sutton, Head of Sport and Exercise Nutrition at the Carnegie School of Sports, Leeds Beckett University, and registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist Ted Munson tell us their top nutrition tips for tennis players.
Low fat milk
Beans and pulses
Be prepared for unexpected situations, such as prolonged matches or rain stopping play. Carry portable, easy to consume carbohydrate-rich foods in your kit bag so that you can top up fuel stores as needed while you wait to get on court. Suitable snacks include fresh or dried fruit, cereal bars, rice cakes or breadsticks, jam or peanut butter sandwiches.
Dehydration can negatively impact performance, including skill and decision-making. The intensity of matches, particularly if played in hot weather conditions, can result in high sweat rates. Added to this, the timing of matches in tournament play can be unpredictable making it more important to continually focus on good hydration practices. Sip fluids regularly, aiming to maintain a pale-yellow urine colour.
Make the most of any breaks in play to refuel and rehydrate courtside. Some players find it difficult to eat normal foods during intense match play. In this situation, specialised sports foods such as energy gels, bars and sports drinks can be useful.
Recovery nutrition strategies are particularly important if you have less than 8-12 hours between training sessions, or when playing in tournaments with multiple matches across multiple days. In these situations, plan to kickstart recovery as soon as possible. Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate to refuel, protein for muscle repair, and plenty of fluids to replace sweat losses.
During prolonged matches, there is some evidence to suggest that caffeine in doses of 3mg per kilogram of body mass may give an ergogenic benefit, making you feel less tired when consumed before and/or during match play. This can be consumed in sports drinks or gels, and cola drinks too.