I believe tennis can be a very merciless sport sometimes. You can practice hard for months, train your body and mind, rest when you need to do so – and yet, if you wake up not feeling well before a match, everything may go down the drain. Since you can’t be subbed-out or take time-outs, you need to make sure you’re feeling good every time you step on a tennis court.
In order to feel good, you need to create healthy habits that can be repeated before every match – and by doing that, you will feel the same way every time you play a match. One of the easiest (and most overlooked) ways to boost your performance in tennis matches is to eat the right types of food at the right times. Nutrition is so important for players, and yet a lot of times it is not taken as seriously as it should.
We can compare our bodies before a match to a formula 1 car before a race. You need to make sure the car has the proper tires in place, the right type and amount of fuel, and that every other little piece is in its proper place. If you fail to prepare the car properly, it will not perform and it will either break down or need to take a pit stop earlier than planned. Our bodies work the exact same way; if we put bad foods into our bodies before a match, we need to be ready for a bad performance. Garbage in, garbage out. Nutrition is so incredibly important, that Novak Djokovic credits the massive improvement in his game in the past few years to his diet. If it’s true for the pros, it is certainly true for us as well.
So what should you eat before a tennis match? As a general rule before a tennis match, you should eat meals that contain lean protein and are high in simple carbohydrates, as those are easily digested and will give you energy for the match. You should stay away from foods with a lot of fat and that are hard to digest, as those will slow down your metabolism and make you feel sluggish.
It is important to take pre-match nutrition seriously not only because it will help you perform better, but because there are few things that are worse than feeling sick on a tennis court. Trust me, it’s not very pleasant to feel like your food is coming back up during the warm-up. And probably even less fun it is to feel like you’re dying at 2/2 in the first set because you didn’t eat enough. In order to avoid such mistakes, we’ll cover what, when, and how much you should be eating before a tennis match.
The Importance Of Different Food Groups
While it is important to maintain a balanced diet on a regular basis, we need to understand the importance of each different food group if we want to maximize our tennis performance. Every food we eat is composed of mainly 3 nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. While all 3 nutrients serve in one way or another to provide energy to our bodies, each one serves a different purpose.
Fats are used in some ways for energy and to help the body absorb vitamins. Therefore, it is important to consume a certain amount for them on a daily basis. Proteins, on the other hand, are known to help the body build and repair muscle tissue. For that reason, protein-rich elements are excellent for post-match recovery. Lastly, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, and consequently, are extremely important before a tennis match. Below we will dive a little bit more in-depth into how carbohydrates can boost performance.
The Importance Of Carbs For Tennis Players
Every time we ingest carbohydrates, our bodies eventually break them down into glucose (sugar) particles. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy, so we can think of it as the fuel we use in our cars. Whenever glucose enters our body, it can either be transformed into glycogen or into fatty acids, depending on what our body needs the most. Glycogen is stored in our brain, our muscles, and our tissues – and it is the fastest source of energy for our bodies. If our glycogen reserves (the equivalent to a car’s tank) are low in “fuel”, glucose is turned directly into glycogen. So in that sense, glycogen can be thought of as the fuel in a car’s tank. It can help us perform well and without interruptions until we run out of it.
However, if our glycogen reserves are already full, the additional glucose we ingest will be transformed into another source of energy: fatty acids. They are stored, well… mostly in our bellies. Fatty acids would be the equivalent of filling up a few empty milk jugs with fuel and keeping them in the back of your car. They can be used as fuel, but you would need to stop the car, it would take longer, and it would be kind of a hassle.
In addition, carbs can be classified into 3 categories according to the Glycemic Index: Low, Medium, and High GI foods. High GI foods (white bread, pasta) are absorbed rapidly, raising the glucose level in your blood very quickly. Low GI foods (whole grain), on the other hand, raise glucose levels slowly and steadily. Normally, people should stick mostly to Low GI foods, but athletes can benefit a lot from consuming High GI foods before performing.
Whenever you’re looking to improve your tennis performance, you need to make sure you keep your glycogen reserves filled up to the right point. You don’t want them to be too empty, otherwise, you will run out of energy. And you don’t want them to be too full, otherwise, you will end up gaining weight. So how do you do that? We’ll cover that below.
What To Eat The Night Before A Tennis Match
While preparation right before the match is very important, you should start getting ready for the match the night before. The dinner on the night before a match is extremely important, as it will set the tone for how your body should operate. I’ve made the mistake once of eating pizza and drinking Coke with my friends the night before a professional tournament. Well, let’s just say that it was a mistake I only intend to make once in my life. The next day, I was extremely sluggish on the court, felt stressed out the whole time, and felt like I could not concentrate. So even if you eat healthy right before a match, you will still pay the price for a bad dinner the night before.
With that being said, what types of foods should you eat the night before a tennis match? You should aim to have a decent-sized meal (don’t overstuff yourself!) containing vegetables, a little bit of lean protein, and a good amount of simple (High GI) carbohydrates, and stay away from fatty or greasy foods. Notice that High GI carbohydrates are more desirable here than Low GI ones, as they will allow you to fill up your glycogen reserves faster.
Low GI foods (whole grain) contain a lot of fiber, which is not digested by the human body. So even though you’re consuming a decent amount of carbs, your body is not absorbing all that energy.
Consuming fatty foods the night before a match is a terrible idea, as they take an extremely long time to be digested, which will make your body work too hard just to process your dinner. In addition, there is always a risk of getting an upset stomach and staying awake at night.
Marathon runners begin loading up on simple carbs about a week before a marathon, just so they can have enough energy throughout the race. While a tennis match does not require the same amount of energy as a marathon, it can still take between 2 to 3 hours. For that reason, you want to make sure you eat a good amount of carbohydrates the night before, so you can fill up your glycogen reserves and have enough energy during the match.
Some of the best dinner options you can have the night before a match are:
1) Spaghetti with Red Sauce and Shrimp, Chicken, or Lean Beef
2) Grilled Chicken or Fish with Sweet Potatoes and Other Veggies
3) Rice Bowl with Salmon and Veggies
4) Turkey or Ham Sandwich
5) Lean Sushi Rolls (with no sauces or cream cheese)
6) BBQ Chicken Pizza (with no cheese)
7) Chicken & Mushroom Risotto (no cheese)
8) Poke-Bowl with no heavy meats or sauces
What To Eat For Breakfast Before A Tennis Match
After having a good dinner the night before and a good night of sleep, your breakfast will dictate how much energy you’re going to have throughout the day. You should try to have breakfast at least 2 to 3 hours before a match, just to give your body enough time to process the food.
Planning your breakfast can be a little tricky since a lot of times tennis matches end up being delayed and we’re left with an awkward time gap in which we don’t know whether we should eat again or not. My best suggestion in order to avoid that is to try to have breakfast about 3 hours before your match and then make sure you have some snacks packed up in your tennis bag.
The idea behind your breakfast on game-day is the same one as for dinner the night before: make sure you eat enough carbs and a little bit of protein. Steering away from fatty foods is even more important during breakfast; otherwise, you may end up feeling indisposed during your match. Hydration at this point is increasingly important as well, so make sure you are drinking enough fluids. Coffee is usually not recommended, but if you’re used to drinking coffee, not drinking it will actually cause more damage than drinking it. If you can, try to drink it black or with just a little bit of milk or creamer, so you won’t feel too stuffed.
Here are some of our best suggestions for breakfast before a tennis match:
9) Pancakes with a Side of Egg Whites
10) Cooked Oatmeal with Honey + Yogurt
11) Waffles with Fresh Fruit
12) Bagel with Peanut Butter and Side of Scrambled Eggs
13) Oatmeal, Banana, and Peanut Butter
14) Toast with Turkey and Low-fat Cheese
15) Egg-White Omelet with a Side of Toast and Jam
What To Eat 1 – 2 Hours Before A Tennis Match
Well, now you might be warmed up already and match time might be coming up. As I mentioned before, it might have been a couple of hours since you last ate, and you’re not sure whether you should eat again or not. The general rule here is that (unless you’re full) you should eat something, even if it is very small. By doing that, you’re ensuring that your glycogen reserves are full and that you will start the game ready.
If you’re about an hour away from your match, you should try to steer away from all fats and proteins, and look for carbs that will be rapidly absorbed by your body. It is almost like you’re trying to get a “sugar-rush” – except you need to choose the right food so you don’t crash later. It’s very important to make sure you are well hydrated as well.
We need to keep in mind that you might not have access to a store at that time or a restaurant, so you need to be prepared. Since you would need to keep the food in your tennis bag, we’ll only list foods and snacks that fit that criteria. Here is a list of the best foods to eat before a tennis match:
16) Fresh Fruit (Bananas, Apples, or Berries)
17) Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
18) Granola Bar
19) Gu Energy gel
20) Dried Fruit
21) Rice Cake
23) Dry Cereal
While carbs have gotten a bad reputation in recent years, you need to accept that, as an athlete, carbs will be your best source of energy. You need to eat them in the right quantity, so that is why it’s important to plan in advance. With the 23 options we provided above, you should have enough information to develop a healthy routine for your tennis matches. Once again, the important thing to remember is to stay away from heavy and fatty foods, and lean towards simple carbohydrates. Also, try sticking with foods that are familiar to you! The last thing you want is to have to take several bathroom breaks during a match.