Carb Loading for Tennis?

Carb Loading for Tennis?

Tennis players often ask if carbohydrate loading before a match is something they should do.

Here’s a question sent in by one of our subscribers who gave us permission to publish it:

“I have a match set for 10:30am. I usually play in the afternoon or evening and thus have plenty of time to make sure I’ve properly hydrated and carbed up.

I’m not worried about getting hydrated, but I’m really not sure when to eat to ensure I am not weak on the court that morning.

Should I eat a carb meal like pasta late the night before? I understand it takes 6 hours for the body to incorporate complex carbs into useful glycogen, so I don’t want to get up at 4am just to eat. I’m really struggling with the right approach. Can you help me?”

Here’s our reply:

Although many people believe the opposite to be true, it is extremely important for everyone to understand that ‘carb loading’ is really not the answer to continued energy on the tennis court.

Carbs, in particular starchy carbs, are very important but you also need some protein and some vegetables (which are the colourful carbs). The inclusion of proteins before a match ensures quicker and more complete recovery from the match (assuming you are fuelling yourself properly after the match) and the inclusion of vegetables, raw and/or cooked is recommended as they contain nutrients that are necessary to convert the starches into energy.

I have worked with players who were adamant that pure carb loading was the answer but were still not performing at their peak on court. Imagine their surprise when their energy shot up as a result of reducing their intake of starchy carbs as well as including protein and veg!

The Night Before

All your meals should consist of about one third (or a little less) lean protein, one third (or a little less) of starch, one third (or a little more) of colourful vegetables, raw and/or cooked.

The night before a match, increase the starch content slightly. Ideally you would not have just one type of starch but a variety.

We all know about pasta, bread, rice and potato but consider a (or any part of) sweet potato, a mix of beans, couscous, cooked parsnips, carrots or any other root vegetables. The greater your variety of starches, the more nutrients are in them. These nutrients (vitamins and minerals) all help in the energy making process as well as recovery (just in case you need to play several matches.

The Morning of the Match

Get up early enough to have a good breakfast and time to digest it. It’s best to test this out on a training day and not on match day.

How long does it take you to digest your food before feeling comfortable enough to run around? For me, it’s a good 3 hours but for some of the junior players I work with, they can have a full meal and play immediately!! Of course, some of this will depend on what you eat.

Fatty foods like mackerel or salmon tend to be a bad idea for breakfast as they can take longer to digest than less fatty foods. Eggs don’t tend to be as problematic, but whatever you decide remember that breakfast must consist of protein, starchy carbs and colourful carbs in the form of veg or/and fruit.

Milk and yoghurt are not as protein dense as eggs, seafood, poultry or meat so if you decide to have porridge with milk and a few chopped fruits you may need to consider including a protein powder as part of your meal. Whey protein is my recommendation with nothing added to it so pure whey, no sugars or sweeteners or any other additives.

If eating a complete meal is not possible due to the time you need to wake up and eat to digest properly then go for a whey protein drink and eat a piece of fruit.

Whichever breakfast you opt for, 1/2 an hour before the match have any part of a banana or any part of an energy bar (I say any part because for some people eating small amounts just suit them better).

During The Match

When on court, don’t simply hydrate with water at every break but also have with you a bottle of an isotonic drink (or a homemade version), a banana or something sweet to nibble on.

If you don’t start ingesting some form of glucose until you feel tired, it’s already too late and your game will suffer so start to get some glucose inside of you, even if minute amounts, within a 1/2 hours of starting your match.

Is Little and Often Better?

In general, eating smaller quantities more often is much better, you’ll never feel too full and your body will be constantly energized so, if you can, consider doing this:

The day before your match: have 6 smaller meals but still consisting of protein, starchy carbs and colourful carbs. This would mean eating every 3 to 4 hours (if you work in an office during the day this may mean you taking with you a number of containers with your food in it. A real nuisance it may be but it works wonders on mental clarity and focus). Larger meals tend to make you feel sleepy – not great for tennis really.

The day of your match: wake up at 0600. Have 1/2 your breakfast at 0630 and the other half at 0830. Half an hour before the match have a snack as recommended above. I’m going to say it again though…………..if this is totally new to you, please test it out first! Do not do anything new before a match!

Keep a Diary

If you are serious about improved performance and want to take that extra step to really individualise your eating plan, keep a note of exactly what you ate, how much and when and then include how you felt immediately after, 1/2 hour later, 1 hour later and 3 hours later.

So rate your mood, energy and mental clarity. No one ever remembers this information so write it down. In this way you can always look back to see what worked and what didn’t. If it didn’t work you should be able to work out why by looking at what you ate the few hours before.

Remember you are biochemically unique – what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. It’s only by keeping a record that you’ll be able to make subtle changes to your diet in order to achieve peak performance.
So use this info to help you hit the ground running in your matches and to keep things going at a high level!