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The Australian Open - challenges for an athlete

Accredited Sports Dietitian, Joanna Shinewell - 15/1/2015


The Australian Open is one of the country’s biggest international events. Nearly 650,000 spectators entered the gates to be part of the 2014 tournament. Not only were there spectators at the courts, but all over the world Australia was being watched. The pressure for these athletes to succeed is immense.

The difficulties of tennis as a sport…

A professional athlete knows exactly what they need to do on match day. From the time they wake, to the activities required to get the body ready before competition, to strategies to resist fatigue during the event and recovery methods post activity. Tennis is as unpredictable as winning the lottery. This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan exactly what needs to be done leading into a match. In other sports athletes know what time they step onto the field, track or court. Knowing what time you step onto the court means that preparation can be structured and timed in a predictable fashion. In tennis this is not always possible. 


How to curb the unpredictability …

For this very reason ensuring recovery is achieved after every training session and every match is pivotal in maximising endurance potential for the next session. To promote adequate recovery of depleted fuel stores, it is important to consume a carbohydrate and protein containing snack or meal within the first 30-60 minutes of completing a training session or a match. Good choice food combinations can include fruit and yoghurt, crackers with toppings that contain protein such as tuna, chicken or cottage cheese; smoothies, dried fruit and nuts, and sandwiches with protein fillings.


The practicalities…

If we look back at setting up the day to perform, it is important that players implement strategies to ensure they start matches well fuelled and hydrated. Food choices at this time need to fulfil certain criteria. They should contain carbohydrate and protein, with small amounts of fat. This meal should be consumed 3-4 hours before the time set for the match. After this meal it is very important to continue to eat and drink small volumes of food and fluid regularly leading into the match. When consuming foods and fluids before a match never try anything new. Always stick to something familiar and trialled during training.

Having food and fluid before players step onto the court will ensure the body is comfortable, and available fuel is ready to go while playing. When a match is played for longer than 60 minutes it is important to provide the body with extra fuel during matches as the body will generally have around 90 minutes worth of fuel to work with. The length of matches is unknown, therefore making it difficult to plan an appropriate intake.  Consuming 20-50g of carbohydrate each hour of play rather than waiting until the point where fatigue sets in is a smart way to plan for matches. Food and fluid choices can include sports drinks, sandwiches, pretzels, bananas and sports gels or bars. 


Being a summer sport…

During the 2014 Australian Open the weather sky-rocketed to temperatures that suspended play, reinforcing how important it is that players take their hydration and cooling strategies seriously. The type of drink selected by an athlete is dependent on their individual needs. Athletes will often consume a variety of water, sports drinks (with 5-8% carbohydrate) and/or electrolyte solutions. The amount consumed is also individually determined based on numerous factors including the player’s sweat rate, match duration and intensity and of course weather conditions. Players may also implement cooling strategies such as drinking ice-slushy drinks to help delay increases in core temperature thereby delaying fatigue. 


The practical side of fluid consumption…

Athletes can get a gauge how much fluid their body needs by weighing themselves before and after a session (with the body mass change being largely due to fluid loss). Players often check in on their fluid losses in a number of different scenarios (weather conditions, duration, intensity, etc) to get an idea of how much fluid they will likely need during a match. It is also important to replace match fluid losses during the post-match recovery period to ensure adequate hydration before the next match. Generally it is recommended to replace 120-150% of fluid losses over the 4-6 hours post exercise.

So getting it right…

Playing hard and performing at your best is all about preparation. Knowing what to eat and drink before a match, having foods and fluids to take onto the court for fuelling during matches, and knowing what to have for recovery so the strategy can be repeated for every match are all imperative factors to being a professional tennis player. 

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