Knowing what to eat for optimal performance is always a challenge – but that’s especially true on match day, when you don’t always know the exact time you’re stepping on court or how long you’ll be out there competing. Appetite can also be affected by the nerves of the occasion.
But you need to begin your competitively day adequately fuelled and hydrated – and regardless of timing or personal preferences, it all comes down to preparation. That means pre-match eating planned, mid-match food and drinks packed and appropriate post-match nutritional choices at the ready.
Aim to eat a solid meal several hours before your match begins. Ideally, your competitive timetable will be neatly mapped out – but if timeframes vary, you can regularly consume small amounts of food heading into the match.
Apart from knowing when to eat, you need to understand what to eat. Carbohydrates are most important, but aim to include a small amount of protein and fat too. It’s best to stick with the foods that you know and enjoy, plus those that are easily digestible (so not too much fibre!). Pre-match is not the time to test your taste buds.
Some possible pre-match meals would include a breakfast of low-sugar cereal and yoghurt, toast with nut butter and/or a lunch comprising a healthy sandwich, fruit and water. If you struggle to eat before a match, a liquid breakfast meal can be helpful.
Your number one consideration during your match is hydration. Take regular sips of water before you feel thirsty, remembering that the adrenaline of a match can prevent that sensation from even occurring.
If your match stretches for longer than an hour, you’ll need to think about replenishing energy levels too. Your body generally has 90 minutes of fuel to work with, so adding some food and fluid will ensure energy is released into the blood stream while you’re competing. The types of foods that you can take on court include bananas, sandwiches and energy bars or gels.
While you can’t always control what time your match will begin, you can certainly be ready for when it ends. Post-match nutrition is arguably equally important (perhaps even more so) as your prematch eating. Your body needs to recover lost fuel stores in time for your next training or tennis session.
Aim to consume a snack or a meal within 30-60 minutes of completing your match, with a careful balance of carbohydrates and protein, which helps to repair your stressed muscles. A recommended guide is 0.8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, and 20 grams of protein.
Recommended post-match combinations would include:
And again, remember the role that hydration plays in your long-term performance. You need to replenish the fluids that were lost on court – water and sports drinks will obviously help. Watery fruits like watermelon are also great choices when it comes to your rehydration.
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