Nutrition basics for the young tennis player

Written by John Hastings

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When it comes to a young tennis player’s nutrition it is important that we can walk before we can run. Let’s start with establishing consistency with the basics and gaining that understanding of how the food we eat affects our health, fitness and performance on the tennis court.

The quality and type of food within our diet has a profound effect upon the structure and function of the human body at its most fundamental level. The millions of cells that make up the body are constantly being renewed with the assistance of the chemical composition of the food we ingest; hence the saying ‘You are what you eat’.

Let’s look at the nutrient groups:

  • Macronutrients- carbohydrates, proteins & fats- Used for structure, function and fuel.
  • Micronutrients- vitamins & minerals- Used for structure & function and unlocking the energy from the macronutrients.


Carbohydrates To Energise Your Performance
Carbohydrates are very important for a tennis player as they provide the energy for us to play and train and are vital in replenishing the system during recovery. We’ll look at the 2 main groups below.

Simple Carbohydrates- These are easily absorbed and are best used to restore our energy levels after training or match play. They will also be used during activity to boost our performance.

For example. Banana and sports drinks during and after sessions and matches.

Potatoes, white rice, white pasta after sessions and matches. Refuel as quickly as possible to speed up your recovery.

Complex Carbohydrates- These release energy over a longer period of time and provide a sustained fuel source to keep you going through out the duration of your tennis match. They should be consumed 2-4 hours before match play or training and throughout your rest day to ‘carb load’ your body for action.

For example. Wholemeal or wholegrain products, wholegrain rice, vegetables, sweet potatoes, yams, pulses, quinoa, rye crackers, oats.

Build Strength & Athleticism With Protein Power
Protein provides the main framework of many components of the body. During training and match play your body will break down muscle tissue and protein will be the key to rebuilding it. Protein intake after exercise is vital to help you recover and repair so your body gets better at adapting to previous demands. Aim for at least 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight and split your intake evenly throughout the day. Limit your protein intake before training as the digestion
of animal protein is slower.

Protein options-  Fresh quality meat and fish such as chicken, turkey, beef, prawns, tuna, salmon. Free range eggs, tinned beans or pulses in water, milk, cottage cheese. Slow cook at lower temperatures to save you from destroying the protein content.

The Hawk-Eye On Fats
 Fat plays a crucial role in a tennis player’s quest for optimum health. From the transportation of certain vitamins and hormone regulation to insulation, immune protection and energy. Fats are usually consumed within your protein and carbohydrates but are also denser in certain food types.

The breakdown and use of the different types of fat is slightly more complex so it will be easier to look out for the fats to avoid.

Avoid Trans Fats/ hydrogenated Fats- The molecular structure of these fats is unrecognisable to the body and is possibly closer in structure to plastic than fats. Foods containing hydrogenated fats include- many margarines, cakes, biscuits, white crackers, pies, pastries, pre-prepared foods and take away foods.

Better Fat Choices- Oily fish, seeds, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, lean meat, eggs, organic butter, olive oil, coconut oil and full fat dairy products.

Vital Vitamins To Magic Minerals
Minerals enable our body to function correctly on a daily basis; they are the key to unlocking the energy from our diet. Although most minerals are important the four macronutrients below are needed in greater amounts.

Calcium- For bone growth and muscular contraction, found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, dried beans, green leafy vegetables.03-005 image 2

Magnesium- For the immune system and heart rhythm; found in nuts, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, peas, egg yolk and whole grains.

Sodium- For fluid balance and nerve function; found in shellfish, vegetables, carrots, artichokes, kidney and bacon.

Potassium- Also for fluid balance and nerve Function; found in citrus fruits, watercress, green leafy vegetables, mint leaves, sunflower seeds, bananas and potatoes.

03-005 image 3All vitamins are synthesised by plants although our body can synthesise certain types. They are split into the water soluble group of B, C and the fat soluble group of A, D, E and K. Many act as antioxidants within the body and it is essential that the tennis player eats a variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and animal produce and avoids processed fruit and vegetables and cooking at high temperatures. If you follow the guidelines within this article you’ll be well on your way to achieving optimal health and fitness and this will in turn play a major role in your performance on the tennis court.

Hydration Could Be The Difference
Keeping your body hydrated could make all the difference to your performance on court. A small decrease in hydration can have a dramatic effect on your physical and mental output. To avoid cramping and poor concentration make sure you’re taking your fluids on board.

03-005 image 4Isotonic drinks- The sports drinks help replace lost fluid through exertion and contain the necessary electrolytes and salts that we lose through sweating. As the drinks are relatively similar to the concentration of our blood they offer us fast absorbing carbohydrates to give us that much needed boost of energy. Try to avoid or limit caffeinated beverages as this can 03-005 image 5contribute to further fluid loss. Sip your sports drink every 15 minutes before, during & after exercise. Make sure you consume during match breaks to keep your energy stores high.

Water- Keep your water intake up throughout the day and sip between your sports drinks. A good test of hydration is to check the colour of your urine. It should be clear to pale yellow. If it’s dark yellow then you know you need to up your intake. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces everyday. So if you weigh 100lbs, drink 50 ounces. 1 pint is 20 ounces. Drink extra before, during and after match play to counter balance any fluids that have been lost.