Tennis is a sport characterized by repeated short bursts of high intensity exercise over a match that may last several hours. While tennis is highly reliant on skill and anaerobic energy systems, a good aerobic capacity is important to aid recovery between games, tolerance to heat, and the endurance to play through extended matches. At the elite level, matches can last up to 3hrs for women and 4-5hrs for men with maximum rest times of 20secs between points; 90secs between changeovers and 120secs between sets. So, although the game is not continuous, the length of the match may well challenge carbohydrate stores. This is especially relevant during tournaments where multiple matches may be played in a single day and may continue for several days in a row, limiting recovery time.
Elite tennis players are professional athletes (it is their full time job). Players can spend between 25-40 hours per week training, most of which is spent on-court, in addition to off-court conditioning such as running, weight training or agility work. At a recreational level, training varies, with some players competing in matches but not routinely training.
Training sessions can be more intense and physically demanding than the tennis match itself, setting up large energy and carbohydrate requirements. A diet rich in nutrient dense carbohydrate foods (e.g. pasta, rice, wholegrain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables and dairy) is important to provide adequate energy to maintain performance and assist recovery.
Players who have less than 8-12 hours in between training sessions, should start recovery nutrition strategies soon after finishing training. Ideally, players should aim to have a carbohydrate and protein containing snack within 30 minutes of finishing. See recovery section below for more details.
Tennis players come in all shapes and sizes but in general, high levels of muscle mass and low body fat levels are advantageous for optimsing power behind shots, as well as increasing speed and agility. A long term approach to weight and body fat maintenance should be discussed between players, their coaches and an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Please see the Weight Loss Fact Sheet for more information.
Although fluid needs vary between individuals, the requirements of tennis players during training and matches are generally high for several reasons.
- The high intensity, “stop and go” style of exercise increases sweat rates
- Matches are often played in hot conditions and can last for several hours – court surface temperatures of 50°C have been reported from centre court during the Australian Open
- During tournaments, if players don’t sufficiently replace lost fluids after a match they can start a subsequent match dehydrated.
- The timing of matches can be unpredictable during tournaments which can make it difficult for players to maintain good hydration practices while waiting for upcoming matches.
In hot conditions athletes need to pay special attention to their fluid intakes. Having plenty of cool, refreshing fluids on hand and making the most of opportunities to sip on fluids (e.g. during breaks and when changing ends) is a good strategy to help avoid dehydration.
Dehydration can impair exercise ability, skill and decision making and therefore significantly affect performance. Aiming for pale yellow urine over the day is a useful indicator of good hydration status. Athletes can assess how much fluid they lose over a training session or match by weighing themselves before and after. See Fluids in Sport fact sheet for more information.
Eating before competition
The pre-match meal should be eaten 2-4 hours prior to play. It should be high in carbohydrate and low in fat. To avoid stomach discomfort, foods low in fibre and fat may be preferred. It is important to ensure the meal is well planned and uses familiar foods and fluids. Suitable options include:
- Breakfast cereal + low fat milk
- Fresh or canned fruit + yoghurt
- English muffins/crumpets/toast + jam
- Pasta + tomato-based sauce or rice dish
- Sandwiches with simple fillings
Nervous athletes who have a poor appetite may find liquid carbohydrates easier to manage (e.g. liquid meal replacements, smoothies, juice, sports drink).
Eating and drinking during competition
The amount of food and fluid required during a competition depends on the intensity and duration of the match. Athletes need to remember to pack suitable fluids and snacks in their on-court bag for rapid access.
Tennis players should make use of breaks in play (e.g. change of ends & between sets) to consume fluids such as sports drink and water for refueling and rehydration goals.
Carbohydrate based snacks can also be used during intensive and/or long tennis matches to top up fuel supplies. Suitable snacks can include bananas, muesli bars or sports foods such as bars or gels.
Recovery after training and competition can be enhanced by eating a meal or snack containing carbohydrate to replace muscle glycogen stores; protein to speed up muscle repair and fluid to replace sweat losses. Ideally a recovery meal or snack should be consumed within 30-60 minutes of finishing training or competition. This is especially important during tournament play when a number of matches are played within a short time frame, or during weeks of heavy training. Suitable snacks that provide carbohydrate, protein and fluid include:
- Lean meat and salad sandwich + bottle of water
- Low fat fruit smoothie
- Cereal bar + low fat flavoured milk tetra
- Fruit with yoghurt + bottle sports drink