If you want to improve on the court - or even if you just want to get a little healthier - you'll need to pay close attention to your diet. What you eat, how much you eat, when you eat and a whole lot more comes into play if you want to improve your tennis.
Your aim should be to enhance performance whilst promoting overall health and well being.
Here are 7 tips on how you can eat like an athlete and take your performance to new heights...
(Also see my recent post on exercises every tennis player should do for some gym inspiration!)
Eating to fuel performance
Your pre-workout/competition meal has to provide your body with as much energy as possible without causing any digestive issues that have a negative impact. This is a tough balance to strike, but your best fuel source for the body is carbohydrates. Pasta, rice and potatoes are good examples, and are best eaten before you get started playing.
Another important food type is protein, which needs to be in your system prior to activity to help prevent the break down of muscle (catabolism). However, usual sources of protein like chicken and beef require a lot of energy to digest, so they are not ideal choices pre-tennis.
Your best bet before playing is a whey protein shake or a low-fat Greek yoghurt. Fat and fibre should be kept to a minimum, as they reduce the bodies ability to use carbohydrates as fuel. Think of it as filling your car with the maximum amount of fuel and then deliberately putting a blockage in the line between the engine and the fuel tank - fat and fibre are the blockages that you want to avoid.
Thinking About Your Protein Intake
Everyone knows that protein intake is vital for physical performance and development. Where most people go wrong is thinking that more protein = more muscle gains. This isn't necessarily the case. A healthy range for protein intake is 08g-1.2g per pound of bodyweight.
Protein's key role within the diet of an athlete is the growth and repair of muscle. And it's not only body builders that need to worry about growing and repairing muscle. Muscles drive athletic performance regardless of the sport, so keen tennis players should think about protein intake, too.
Tennis matches and training sessions are a marathon, not a sprint. If you need any proof of that, just think back to the record match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, which lasted for 11 hours and five minutes over three days.
Don't think that those guys didn't eat plenty while on the court!
If long training sessions and competitions are the norm for you, think about what you should be consuming during your activity. Stay away from solid food and stick to isotonic drinks that are high in carbohydrates. Another option is to dilute two drinks with water and add some sea salt, which will ensure you are hydrated and fueled for peak performance.
Which brings us to...
Staying hydrated is vital to maintaining performance levels - a 2% drop in fluid levels can lead to a 10-20% drop in performance levels. To stay hydrated, make sure you drink water steadily throughout the day and not just before you start playing. If you try to consume too much water before you perform you will feel bagged up and wont perform at the level your are capable of.
Hydration is key to every single bodily function. Did you know that you can go 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water?
Look After Your Gut
The gut is now commonly referred to as the second brain thanks to recent research showing that it contains over 100 million brain cells. To ensure that your gut is functioning in a healthy and productive way, try to include sources of probiotics in your diet. These are things like yoghurt and pickled vegetables, which are ideal for promoting gut health.
Have a Plan
If you're feeling pretty intimidated by this list so far, don't worry. Point six is that you should have a plan. When you train to improve your tennis, you plan ahead, thinking about which drills and skills you are going to focus on.
So why should your diet be any different?
You can plan your meals in as much detail as you like. You could even batch cook a certain number of meals for the week to save time.
Interested in trying a tennis coaching session with Top4Tennis? Here's a look inside a typical one-to-one session.
So why not try sitting down one evening and writing down what your meals are going to be for the next week? This will help to ensure you stay on track with your diet and eat the right foods at the right time.
Listen to your body
Your body is a highly sophisticated organism. If you are constantly having digestive issues or gut distress or any kind of diet-related issue, then your body is trying to tell you that something you are eating isn't agreeing with you.
This may sound like an obvious thing to say. But you'd be surprised at the number of athletes who have a 'suck it up' mentality. In this instance that mentality is a hindrance. Stopping to take stock of what could possibly be going wrong is the best plan of action.