In the Ace Your Fuel for the Next Wimbledon – Part 1, we covered general tennis nutritional strategies for training days. This time let’s talk about tennis nutrition for competition to learn about eating strategies that enhance your match day performance.
Match duration and intensity in tennis is highly unpredictable. Matches often last longer than an hour; women’s games can last up to three hours while men’s events can go for four to five hours (1). A great example would be this year’s 2019 Wimbledon Men’s single title where Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer played for four hours and 57 minutes before the winner was determined (4). A player’s technique, style, court surface, and ball type each influence match intensity. Environmental variables like temperature, wind, and humidity also play a role (1,3,5). The energy a player uses will depend on each of these factors.
To ensure your body is well prepared for match days and can meet unpredictable fuelling demands, plan your nutritional strategies early. Read on for our top tips on tennis nutrition for competition.
Tennis Nutrition for Competition
The Day Before Match Day
Tennis nutrition strategies for match day should start 24 hours before your competition. Follow your usual eating pattern but be wise about your food choices. Avoid trying any new food items in the days leading to the competition. Minimize the risk of eating foods that cause digestion problems. Focus on fuelling your muscles with carbohydrates (1). One to three hours before bedtime, eat a small snack that includes carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein.
See below for general fluid recommendations (2). Please note that fluid needs vary individually so prioritize drinking to thirst. Your urine should be straw-coloured; any lighter then you may be drinking too much, and much darker then you may be drinking too little.
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In addition to these recommendations, depending on your own fluid needs, you may consider drinking an extra 2 to 3 cups of fluid before bed.
Unless you are competing in the first game of the day, you will most often not know the exact times of your matches. This uncertainty is one of the difficulties of planning your tennis nutrition strategy. But, if you have a good approximation of your game time, eat a meal 4 hours before your match. Pre-competition meals should focus on the high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low in fat and fibre meals.
Aim for 1 – 4 grams/ kg body weight (BW) of carbohydrate. The more time you have before a match, the more carbohydrates the meal should contain. Therefore, If you have 4 hours, eat around 4 g/kg BW of carbohydrates. With less time opt for the lower carbohydrate range, 1 – 2 g/kg BW.
If you prefer sweet meals, you can follow Federer breakfast’s, homemade waffles with fresh fruit compotes together with fresh juice, coffee and a shot of vinegar (3). However, be aware that not everyone can tolerate coffee and vinegar well, so trial and error to see what suits you best. Maybe a full meal is too much for your stomach, opt for morning smoothies like Djokovic. Djokovic makes his favourite smoothie with banana, plant milk, cinnamon, chia seed, protein powder, flaxseed and cacao powder (4).
Make sure you are adequately hydrated. A simple method is to look at your urine colour, look for a pale-yellow colour. If it is not, refer back to the Ace your fuels for the next Wimbledon – Part 1 for hydration guidelines before training.
During the Match
As mentioned before, a tennis match typically lasts longer than an hour and can go up to 5 hours or more. One of the longest tennis matches played in tennis history had a playtime of 11 hours and 5 minutes (5). With this wide time range, it is hard to know how long you will be playing so fuelling in between is vital for maintaining your performance. A crucial tip is; plan for long matches and pack enough food and fluid for refuelling during games as well as recovery snacks for post-match.
To sustain your performance, consuming some carbohydrates and staying hydrated is beneficial during matches. A study has shown that eating carbohydrates during prolonged tennis games, can improve stroke quality (6) and may help maintain physical skill quality. If you foresee your match to last about 1 to 2.5 hours, consume approximately 30 – 60 grams of carbohydrates every hour. Start refuelling 20 – 30 minutes in the game. So, for a 2-hour match, you would need 60 – 120 grams of carbohydrate during the play.
If the match is expected to go for longer than 3 hours, consume up to a maximum of 90 grams carbohydrate each hour. So, plan and pack your snacks for refuelling. Choose low fibre, high carbohydrate snacks such as energy chews or fruits. Professional tennis player, Roger Federer goes for snack bars and banana, while Djokovic opts for dates (3, 4). Gels are alternative options if solids do not sit well in your stomach; however, make sure you drink some water with it to prevent an upset stomach.
Apart from carbohydrates, start drinking fluids at each changeover and tie breaks, 3 – 4 gulps. Cold liquids are preferred as they can help cool down core body temperatures. Sports drinks are an excellent option to help replace electrolytes and carbohydrates lost in sweat.
Post – Match Recovery
Recovery nutrition should start as soon as possible post-match to promote glycogen storage and to repair any muscle damage. After matches, you should focus on moderate calories and protein, low fat and high carbohydrate meal. Planning for recovery nutrition is also determined by the amount of time you have between matches.
If you have no matches within 8 hours, simply follow the tennis nutritional strategies for training days provided in Ace your fuels for the next Wimbledon – Part 1. If you have less than 8 hours before your next match, eat 1.0 – 1.2 g/kg of carbohydrates each hour for the first 4 hours, then resume your regular pre-game eating routine (7).
For a player that weighs 60 kg and has a match within the next 8 hours, each hour he or she would need 60 – 72 g of carbohydrates. Thus, in total for the first 4 hours after a match, he or she would need to eat 240 – 284 g of carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are needed to restore our muscle glycogen while protein is required to help rebuild muscle proteins. So, after matches, try to eat 20 – 25 g of protein within 20 minutes after practice. Smart protein choices help accelerate recovery in your muscles (7). Choose complete proteins such as red meat, poultry, fish, egg, milk and cheese. These sources contain all the essential building blocks for body muscles to recover.
Some post-match food ideas:
- 1% chocolate milk
- Low fat (Fruit yoghurt)
- Peanut butter and jam sandwich
- Raisin bagel.
Last but not least, replenish your fluid loss. Drink fluids according to the recovery guidelines provided in Ace Your fuels for the Next Wimbledon – Part 1.
Tennis Nutrition for Competition in a Nutshell
Eating for competition day presents a challenge as match timing can be unpredictable. Meet tournament fuelling demands by eating and hydrating well in the week leading up to the competition. Start with a balanced breakfast the morning of your match and pack snacks and small meals for on-the-go nutrition breaks during the event. Now with all the tips and tennis nutrition strategies provided, think ahead and start planning and packing for your next match day.
Nutrition planning is integral to achieve your optimal athletic performance. Gazelle Nutrition Lab delivers one-on-one or group nutrition counselling and consulting to both recreational and high-performance athletes. In addition, the Gazelle Blog is a free resource for healthy recipes and health tips. Have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch!
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- National Institutes of Health [Internet]. Washington: National Academy of Science; 2011[cited 2019 Oct 11]. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Total Water and Macronutrients [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t4/?report=objectonly
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- Clark K. Kevin Anderson edges John Isner in exhausted Wimbledon semi-final. The Washington Post [Internet]. 2018 Jul 13 [ cited 2019 Oct 11]; Sports: [about 7 p.] Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/tennis/kevin-anderson-defeats-john-isner-at-wimbledon-in-second-longest-match-in-grand-slam-history/2018/07/13/ff162516-86ca-11e8-8f6c-46cb43e3f306_story.html
- Vergauwen K, Brouns F, Hespel P. Carbohydrate supplementation improves stroke performance in tennis. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1998; 30(8): 1289 – 1295.
- Kovacs MS, Baker LB. Recovery interventions and strategies for improved tennis performance. Br.J. Sports Med. 2014; 48 Suppl 1:S18-21. Doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-093223.