Tennis is a physically and mentally demanding sport that requires proper nutrition and hydration to support training and match-play. The purpose of this article is to provide evidence-based nutritional recommendations for tennis players.
Anthropometric and Physiological Characteristics of Tennis Players
Tennis players do not excel in any particular characteristic but are well adapted in all areas. This is likely a result of the varied nature of tennis match play and training demands.
Energy Expenditures in Tennis
Tennis is broadly considered an intermittent sport, that comprises brief periods of activity interspersed with short active recovery durations and longer passive recovery bouts. The physiological demands of tennis match play are complex and depend on highly variable interactions between technical, tactical, physical, and environmental constraints. Energy expenditures of 440kcal/hr and 646kcal/hr have been reported in women and men players respectively regardless of court surface. Depending on environmental conditions, sweat rates of 0.5 to over 5 L per hour and sodium losses of 0.5 – 1.8 g have been recorded in men and women players.
General Macronutrient and Energy Intake Recommendations for Tennis
Adequate energy must be consumed to support the volume, intensity, and duration of activity. Estimated energy expenditure during tennis play for between 1-5+ h for men can range from 649 kcal to over 3244 kcal. Tennis players should follow a habitually high carbohydrate diet of between 6 to 10 grams per kilogram bodyweight per day to ensure adequate glycogen stores, with women generally requiring slightly less than men. Protein intake guidelines for tennis players training at a high intensity and duration on a daily basis should be around 1.5g per kilogram bodyweight per day and dietary fat intake should not exceed 2 grams per kilogram bodyweight per day.
Carbohydrate Intake Recommendations
It has been understood for many years that a high carbohydrate diet leads to increased muscle glycogen stores, which contributes to optimal performance particularly in endurance-type activities. It is also known that a low carbohydrate diet (<15 % of total energy intake) can impair high-intensity exercise and endurance performance, both of which are key aspects of tennis match-play.
Protein Intake Recommendations
Studies have shown that young tennis players consume over 1.5 grams per kilogram bodyweight per day in protein, which is close to the recommended dietary protein intakes of 1.6 grams per kilogram bodyweight per day. Manipulation of the timing, type, and amount of protein that is consumed, and its co-ingestion with other nutrients will impact the effectiveness of the protein to stimulate protein synthesis and maximize recovery and adaptation.
Fat Intake Recommendations
While carbohydrate is the predominant fuel that is used during tennis, fat oxidation will also contribute to energy provision, especially as the duration of the match or training session increases. With matches lasting anywhere between 2-5 h, endurance is an important element in tennis. It is suggested that the amount of daily fat required to ensure adequate intramuscular triacylglyceride stores for an endurance athlete training for over 2 hrs per day is 2 g/kg. Whatever the dietary requirements of the athlete, some sources of fat must be included in the diet to allow for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, synthesis of hormones, and to support effective function of cell membranes.
There is no reason to suspect micronutrient deficiencies in healthy elite-standard tennis players with high energy intakes and varied diets. However, it is important to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.
Caffeine in doses of 3mg per kg bodyweight provides ergogenic benefit when taken before and/or during tennis match play. Fluid requirements in a range of ambient temperatures are estimated from sweat rate using the regression equation.
200 mL of fluid containing electrolytes should be consumed every change-over in mild to moderate temperatures of less than 27°C but in temperatures greater than 27°C players should aim for over 400 mL.
30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour should be ingested when match play exceeds 2 hours. Working with a sports dietitian/nutritionist is crucial to optimize and tailor targets for each athlete.
by Manuel Attard M.Sc RD – Sports Dietitian & Nutritionist in Gozo, Malta