What you eat and drink has a vital effect on how you perform on court. Your diet should play a key role in your pre-match preparation. You should experiment to see which foods help you avoid low energy, stomach pains or cramps during a match.
The three key points for the day of a match are:
- Before the match
- During the match
- After the match
Remember that these are just guidelines and may not work for everyone. The important thing is to experiment with different sources of food and find a regime that works best for you.
Before the match
Although we are all different, the food we eat before a match has to do the same for all of us:
- Supply the body with energy to make sure we play our best
- Reduce the chance of early fatigue, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) light-headedness, blurred vision and indecisiveness
- Reduce the risk of injury
- Put off any feeling of hunger
Carbohydrates are the best bet here: they are quickly digested and easily converted into ready energy. Proteins take longer to digest and may increase the need to urinate. Fats are the hardest to digest and leave an uncomfortable heavy feeling - not what you want to have before a match.
When to eat is a problem. Tennis is more difficult than other sports in this respect: unless you are first on the schedule of play, there is no way of knowing when you will be playing. You have to guess!
Here are some guidelines:
First match of the day?
Eat a high-carbohydrate meal and a snack before bed the night before. For breakfast have a light-carbohydrate snack (1-2 slices of toast or a bagel and juice).
3-4 hours before the match?
Ideal time for a high-carbohydrate meal to fuel you muscles - plenty of time to digest.
2-3 hours before the match?
Time for a smaller meal, again high in carbohydrates.
1-2 hours before the match?
A liquid/blender meal is best: liquids are absorbed more quickly than solids.
During the match
You will lose much of your body's fluid and minerals in the form of sweat. You must replace these nutrients during play if you are to prevent dehydration, muscle cramps and dizziness. Water is still the best way to replace lost fluids, but sports drinks will help you to replace lost minerals (i.e. sodium and potassium). A 2:1 ratio of water to sport drinks is ideal.
Bananas are a good food to eat during a match: they're a good source of potassium and they're easily digested. Sports bars that are low in fibre and quick to digest are also good.
Avoid cola drinks: they contain caffeine, which is a diuretic and therefore increases your fluid output. This is exactly what you are trying to prevent. Cola drinks may actually increase your chances of becoming dehydrated.
After the match
After all that exercise, your energy levels will be low, and you will have lost minerals through sweating. You must refuel: if you do not, you will end up feeling tired, you will perform less well, and you will be more susceptible to injuries.
Stock up on carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and juices in the first two hours after your match: this is when your muscles are most effective at storing glycogen. It is especially important to do this if you have a match the following day.
Drink plenty of fluids (it can take up to 48 hours to replace the fluid you lost during a match), especially natural juices, which contain potassium, vitamins and carbohydrates. Keep drinking until your urine is clear.
Don't forget that your muscles need rest to allow them to store glycogen.
The information provided above is for information purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. If you have any health or related questions or concerns please contact your medical advisor.
Reproduced by kind permission from the WTA Tour.