Like most sports, tennis has its own unique challenges when thinking about how to best fuel and hydrate. Tennis is based on a best of 3 or best of 5 set match, while lower levels will play best of 1 sets. At the highest levels, match can take up to 3-5 hours .
During a match, players will have roughly a 15-20 second break in-between points and a 90 second break with change of ends as well as a 2-minute break between sets. This gives us a unique set of time points where a player would be able to refuel compared to other sports such as soccer or rugby where the only opportunity to refuel and rehydrate would be at half time.
Tennis players will also undergo lots of repeated short bursts of high intensity running, which when combined with the large lengths of a tennis match, lead to quite heavy glycogen draining .
In addition to this, the timing of tennis matches can be influenced by the length of the matches beforehand. Therefore, plans will need to be put in place to ensure fuelling and hydrating is done at the right times.
What are the energy and macronutrient needs of a tennis player?
Although the needs of an individual tennis player will determine on factors such as training load, training goals, body composition goals, and the age of the athlete, there are some rough guidelines which have been recommended for tennis players training every day.
The current recommendation for tennis players is a high carbohydrate intake of 6-10g/kg of bodyweight . This is largely due to the high energy requirements of a tennis player, with matches burning 30.9-45.3 kj per minute .
The current protein recommendation is 1.6g/kg of bodyweight and the current dietary fat intake is recommended to be below 2g/kg in order to accommodate for the high carbohydrate intake needed . The type of fat consumed should be unsaturated fats such as fatty fish, olive oil, and nuts. Ideally, less than 10% of your daily energy intake should be from saturated fat.
Often, tennis can be played for hours under hot weather conditions leading to the potential for dehydration and decreased performance. Thankfully however, there are many opportunities to rehydrate during a match. Players should rehydrate whenever possible and should aim to drink roughly the amount of water they are losing as well as replace electrolytes through an electrolyte supplement or in the form of a sports drink.
The amount of water you lose during exercise can be calculated by weighing yourself before training or a game and reweighing yourself after. From here, calculate how much body weight you have lost minus the amount of fluid you have drunk in that time period. You can then convert your sweat loss into litres/hour to have a good idea of your sweat rate for each activity.
Match day nutrition
Before a competition, meals should be consumed normally with your last proper meal containing carbs, protein, and vegetables being 3-4 hours before the competition. From here, a large carbohydrate meal should be consumed 1-2 hours before competition and a smaller carbohydrate ‘primer’ such as a few lollies should be consumed 30 minutes before competition.
Fluid should be sipped on throughout the day leading up to the event in order to maintain hydration without overloading your body with water by sculling large amounts.
Up to 3mg/kg of caffeine can also be taken before or during the tennis match to improve performance .
As a note, you should pack a light snack with you to have as a back up for if your tennis match is heavily delayed.
During a match, fluid intake should be roughly 200ml of water with electrolytes every change over if the temperature is under 27 degrees Celsius, and 400ml every change over if the temperature is above 27 degrees Celsius . This can be modified depending on your individual sweat rate.
Sport drinks can also be used as well as sport gels and energy bars during longer breaks to maintain glycogen stores in the body. It is suggested that 30-60g/hour of carbohydrates should be consumed when a match is longer than 2 hours . Carbohydrate intake is especially important as tennis players have been shown to make less mistakes and improve their stroke performance when carbohydrates are given to them during a high intensity training session or match .
 SDA Factsheet - Tennis
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