How to eat like a tennis pro

Food5 min read

How to eat like a tennis pro: A look at the daily diet of a professional athlete by Bec Hewitt

Long, gruelling tennis matches and intense training sessions can take a toll on the fittest of tennis players. So it’s essential that Lleyton maintains a healthy lifestyle and adopts a diet that’s rich in good fats, iron, potassium, sodium, calcium and protein to provide the necessary fuel he needs to sustain energy levels and repair tired muscles.

I’ve put together a typical daily eating plan, so you can see what it takes nutritionally to fuel a tennis player, on and off the court.

Tennis balls and net

Breakfast:

Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day, so it’s essential that my family begin each morning with a meal that’s high in fibre and complex carbohydrates for long-lasting energy.

Our first daily meal is usually made from whole wheat or oatmeal and can be served with a protein (egg white or natural yoghurt). I’ll also prepare some low-calorie, nutrient-dense fruit, such as grapefruit, tangerines and strawberries, or whatever’s in season, so there’s no chance of Lleyton experiencing a sugar crash, induced by high-sugar fruit. And if it’s match day, breakfast will be wrapped up at least two hours before the start of the big game.

Lunch:

Lleyton’s lunchtime meals are usually stacked with a lean protein such as chicken or fish, alongside a complex carbohydrate side (whole-wheat pasta or brown rice) and a natural sodium food source (he will often go for a low-fat cheese) to help his muscles recover from tough on-court activity.

On match day, however, depending on the time of the game, Lleyton tends to eat a lunch (around two-to-three hours before the game) that’s high in carbohydrates to sustain his energy levels.

Dinner:

It’s just as important for Lleyton to eat a well-balanced, nutrition-filled dinner, especially on the nights before and after a competition, as it is to have a sustaining breakfast.

So our aim is to create a family dinner that can settle hunger, maximise long-term energy levels and ease his body after a tough day of physical activity.

Carbohydrates, found in cereals, pasta, legumes, fruits and vegetables, are a good way to achieve this.

So smart dinner choices see him eating large portions of vegetables, whole grains and lean cuts of protein (good for muscle growth and repair) cooked with extra virgin olive oil.

We use herbs and spices to flavour foods and work to keep saturated fats, sugars and salt levels low.

Snacks:

Achieving a healthy lifestyle is all about balance, so treats are important. For Lleyton, that means having a Starbucks Frappuccino every now and again. During matches, however, caffeinated beverages, diet drinks and alcohol are avoided. Lleyton also occasionally enjoys bacon with his Sunday brekkie, so I always make sure I’ve got rindless bacon in the fridge, again, a variety that’s made with extra virgin olive oil.

Other healthy snacks might include pure low-calorie fruit and vegetable juices. It’s also important for him to eat plenty of healthy snacks during matches, such as a banana, which keeps blood-sugar levels steady and provides a quick energy boost.

Water, drunk every 15 minutes during a match, is also crucial to replenish electrolytes lost through sweating. Coconut water also provides a good source of electrolytes and potassium.

A small amount of protein – milk or Greek yoghurt – is also a fantastic post-match snack he’ll often go to. Or, if he’s craving something salty, lean ham always fills the spot.

Helping to prepare and plan the diet of a professional athlete can be quite difficult, especially when trying to ensure it fits in with the rest of the family’s preferences. However, by working together as a family and planning ahead, it’s easy to make healthier food choices that the whole family can enjoy and benefit from.

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