Building the best diet for a tennis player can be tricky. Tennis is an intermittent sport that mixes stop-start bursts of high intensity that rely on explosive energy with active and passive rest periods. In matches, you might find yourself pushing your limits for up to five hours or more and even though as little as 15 percent of that time is actual matchplay, pros can cover as much as 10 miles on court.
It’s a high-intensity, long-haul endurance cocktail that also demands high levels of unbreakable concentration. So when it comes to tennis nutrition, there’s much more to a tennis player’s diet than a quick changeover banana and a few swigs of sports drink. Fuelling for speed, power, agility, endurance and alertness, requires a smart nutritional approach.
If you want to ace your training and be a smash on court deep into the later sets, there are some simple tennis nutrition tips that’ll help.
As a proud partner of the UK Pro League tennis, Veloforte brings a wealth of expertise in creating powerful and tasty real-food fuel, carefully crafted to boost performance on court.
In this guide, we’ll give you everything you need, to develop your own simple but effective tennis nutrition plan. Here’s your complete introduction to nutrition for tennis players.
Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for tennis players
- Vitamin E
- Sodium, potassium and magnesium
To provide energy, support fast and effective recovery and generally maintain good health on and off the court, it’s important to balance your macros, micros, vitamins and minerals.
Here’s a quick introduction to these basic building blocks that make up any good tennis food plan.
Nutrition for tennis players
In a 150-minute match players can burn between 1,100 and 1,700 calories. Like all athletes, players should aim to fuel that effort with a well-balanced diet of carbs, protein and fats. They should also pay close attention to the vitamins and nutrients that support joints, tendons and ligaments, sleep, concentration and a healthy immune system.
Those bananas you see Roger Federer and Co eating during changeover are packed with rapid release carbohydrates – your body’s preferred fuel source for exercise, particularly when you’re working at high heart-rate intensities, sprinting around the court.
The body converts these carbohydrates into readily-available glucose and uses them immediately to fuel your ball chasing and baseline scurrying. Any excess is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, your body’s main energy banks. These limited glycogen stores hold between 300 and 600g and take between 60 and 90 minutes of exercise to empty, depending on intensity.
You need to adapt your carb intake to meet the specific demands of training days, match days and rest days. Too few carbs on training days and you won’t perform at your best, too many on lighter recovery days can affect your body composition.
The aim is to arrive at your training sessions and matches with your glycogen tanks full. As a rule of thumb, research suggests that tennis players should aim for 5-7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight daily when intensity is moderate to high and 7-10 grams per kilogram when the intensity is high, or during tournament weeks.
During training and match play beyond 90 minutes, experts recommend topping up with 30-60g carbs per hour. After training and matches, you also need carbs to restock your tanks, a crucial part of effective recovery.
Protein is your body’s main building material. It repairs muscle damage and micro tears suffered during exercise and supports recovery between training sessions. It also helps the uptake of glycogen into the muscles after matches, refuelling them for your next session.
Individual protein requirements vary. They’re also impacted by the frequency, duration and intensity of your training and matches. However, research suggests that consuming 1.6 - grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day, should be enough.
You can meet your needs from plant or animal sources but you should aim for combinations that provide complete proteins with all 20 essential amino acids with meals and snacks like hummus and pita bread and peanut butter on wholewheat toast.
Protein shakes offer a convenient way to boost your protein intake around workouts and matches too and the new range of natural Veloforte recovery shakes pack the perfect balance of carbs, protein and electrolytes to help speed your recovery. Or another great on-the-go option is Veloforte’s Mocha and Forza protein bars. They pack an optimal 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein, in a convenient – and delicious – hit of complete proteins.
Mono and polyunsaturated good fats support health. They can help lower blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol and cut the risk of heart disease. They’re also crucial in the uptake of the fat-soluble vitamins (A,K,D and E) that support recovery, energy supply and your immune system.
Saturated fat intake – found in foods like cakes, biscuits, crisps and fatty red meat – should be limited.
Experts suggest that total dietary fat intake shouldn’t exceed 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
Vitamins, minerals and supplements
Getting an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals from nutrient dense foods is important for everyone. But when it comes to nutrition for tennis, these extras in your diet are particularly important to health and performance.
You can get many of your vital nutrients from regular foods but in some cases supplements might be needed to plug any gaps. Here are some to watch for in your tennis diet plan.
This antioxidant can potentially speed up recovery time during heavy training cycles or tournament play, by reducing free radical damage after exercising.
Tennis players and athletes in general deplete iron stores faster than non-athletes. Ensuring good iron levels helps fend off any fatigue that might impair training and match performance.
Often deficient in athletes, particularly those who swap out dairy products, it’s needed for strong bones and experts recommend 1,200 to 1,500 mg of calcium daily from food or supplements for athletes, including tennis players.
Sodium, potassium and magnesium
Essential for muscle function and energy metabolism.
Good for growth, cell reproduction and testosterone production, evidence shows zinc can help speed recovery from colds. The cold-fighting doses in the studies required supplements but eggs, peas, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds are all good natural sources.
Tennis players’ joints can take a beating – particularly knees – and while strengthening the supporting muscles can help to combat this, studies also show that adding glucosamine supplements can also be beneficial. In one study, patients with acute knee injuries saw significant improvement in knee flexion and extension after 28 days supplementing with 1,500 mg per day.
Used to increase muscle strength, size and improve anaerobic performance, studies suggest that creatine supplementation could also help enhance stroke ball speed and repetitive sprint ability, increase maximum strength and speed recovery time from intense muscle fatigue.
A well-timed hit of caffeine can boost alertness, fend off feelings of fatigue and make efforts seem, well, much less effort. In one study, caffeine supplementation improved hitting accuracy and success in women while another study found that serve speed was improved in a prolonged match simulation. Caffeine affects individuals differently but research suggests that tennis players could benefit from doses of 3 mg·kg when match play exceeds 2 hours.
Best food for tennis players
- Greens & cruciferous vegetables
- Energy bars
- Energy gels and chews
- Beetroot and beet juice
- Tart cherry juice
A regular source of carbohydrate for most athletes and tennis players are no exception. Pasta offers a winning combination of neutral taste (no one needs heavy flavours repeating on them during the second set tie break), being relatively easy to digest and providing a steady flow of energy. Choose gluten-free options if that’s your thing.
Grains provide a good source of complex carbs and – if you choose the right ones – nutrients that support performance and recovery. Quinoa’s complete protein is great for plant-based athletes and high in iron and magnesium. Buckwheat is high in the antioxidant rutin, good for reducing inflammation. Oats, sorghum and basically anything whole wheat are also good options.
Greens and cruciferous vegetables
Low-fat, low carb, high-fibre greens, leaves and cruciferous vegetables like spinach, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage offer a lot of nutritional bang for buck. They’re excellent providers of essentials like folate, vitamin A and C, and crammed with antioxidants and phytonutrients. Adding these to meals and smoothies unlocked plant-based compounds that can help reduce inflammation and support recovery.
A go-to for tennis players, bananas deliver a wonderfully portable package fast-acting energy from simple carbs and around 450mg potassium to support muscle function. They also pack manganese, which is important for protein metabolism and energy production, along with vitamin C, B6 and fibre.
Energy bars make great pre-play glycogen top-ups and fast recovery fixes afterwards. And they’re on this list for their practicality and versatility. Though not all energy bars are created equal when it comes to taste and nutritional power.
Veloforte’s Energy Bars offer the perfect balance of nutrients, with energy, protein and even caffeine from natural sources like dried fruit, nuts and guarana, for lasting energy that supports your body and won’t upset your stomach.
Energy gels and chews
With only 60 seconds during changeovers and 90 seconds during set changes, players need quick energy top ups. Energy gels and chews plug this gap with guaranteed hits of carbs that provide an instant bump in energy, ideally without putting too much strain on the stomach.
Veloforte's all-natural range of energy gels are designed to be gentle on the gut. They use unprocessed forms of energy-boosting carbohydrates with sugar from natural sources such as dates and rice, which are much easier on the stomach than other options.
Beetroot and beet juice
Beetroot juice has become a popular go-to across many elite sports. It’s full of nitrate that can improve stamina to help you push harder, for longer, improve blood flow, and help lower blood pressure. You can get nitrates from whole beets but the juices pack a bigger concentrated hit.
Tart cherry juice
Tart cherry juice has been identified as a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and some research shows that it might help reduce strength loss due to muscle damage from specific exercises, particularly eccentric elbow drills that can help with tennis elbow.
Importance of hydration for tennis players
The effects of dehydration range from fatigue to muscle cramps, and even feelings of faintness or dizziness. But as little as 5% dehydration can cause a 30% hit on performance.
Fortunately, changeover breaks between games give tennis players frequent opportunities to top up hydration levels. It’s easier to follow a little-and-often approach than in some teams sports.
Fluid replacement needs on and off court are unique to the individual and conditions. Duration, intensity, temperature and sweat rate play a big part in hydration levels. Though, research suggests players should aim to drink 200 ml of fluid with electrolytes every change-over in mild to moderate temperatures of up to 27°C. When temperatures soar beyond that mark, players should aim for 400ml.
Building good hydration habits into your every day is important too and the NHS recommends drinking 1.2 litres of water daily. When you’re training and playing regularly that’s likely to increase.
You can manage your hydration by paying attention to thirst and the colour of your urine (the lighter the better) and it may also be useful to weigh yourself before and after a match or a training session to get a guide to your own sweat rate. A rule of thumb: every kilogram of body weight lost is equal to 1 litre of sweat loss.
When we sweat we also lose important minerals. Getting into the habit of adding electrolytes like Veloforte’s Attivo, Vivo and Solo to your water bottles for before, during and after matches will help with fluid uptake, balance and aid recovery.
Tennis player diet and nutrition plan
Want to know what the average tennis pro eats? Here’s a quick overview of what the big hitters tuck into around a big match.
The night before a game
Players have a meal high in complex carbohydrates often based on sources of whole grains or gluten-free options such as brown rice, sweet potatoes or quinoa.
Morning glycogen top-ups come in the form of cereals, porridge and smoothies.
Around an hour before a game, players will reach for an additional energy top up. It’s often something portable and convenient like a high-carb, low-protein, low-fat energy bar.
Some players might include caffeine, though it can take up to an hour to peak in the bloodstream. This is highly individual and timing of intake is critical for maximum effect. Caffeine’s impact can be dulled if it’s over used.
Like most athletes, immediately after a game, tennis players reach for classic recovery shakes, often personalised for their needs and tastes. They’re easier to stomach after intense effort than proper foods and easy to include in the kit bag.
An example might be a 500ml drink that combines 30g of protein and 50g carbs or a Veloforte Vita or Nova shake with the optimum balance of carbs to protein. They’ll follow this with other snackable sources of good, complete proteins and finish the refuelling job with a protein-rich meal.
Getting started with tennis nutrition
1. Understand your rhythms
Understanding what constitutes a good diet for a tennis player, starts with mapping out your training and playing rhythms. Are you popping on court once a week to stay fit and socialise? Or are you training twice a week and competing at a higher level?
Sketch out the important factors that might affect your nutrition, for example how often you train, how long for, what time of the dy and at what intensity? This will help to refine your fuelling needs.
2. Find your good food habits
The most effective nutritional changes are those that are easy to adopt into your regular habits. That means finding foods that not only provide that combination of energy and essential nutrients, but also taste good, play nice with your digestive system and fit into the logistics of everyday life.
3. Create your hydration strategy
A good hydration strategy that meets your unique needs requires trial and error and attention to detail. Monitor your sweat rate in different conditions, pay attention to thirst and keep an eye urine colour in the various conditions you face in training, match play and at rest. And remember, electrolytes aren’t just for training sessions and matches, it can be beneficial to add pre-hydrating powders to your regular water intake too.
4. Stock up and start testing
Hopefully, you now have the tools to create your own diet for tennis, and now it’s time to stock up on the essentials. We think you should start by sticking a selection of Veloforte’s range of all-natural, real-food bars, nectars, electrolyte powders and chews into your tennis kit bag. We provide carefully balanced, powerful and delicious options for every tennis player’s needs.