Learning From the Best

It’s no surprise why Novak Djokovic made the jump from top 5 in the world to the best player on tour.  Nutrition.  He realized that for his body to do the things he needed it to do would take a deeper understanding of athletic performance.  His diet change made it so he could outlast his opponents and stay focused much longer, earning him millions of dollars more than before.  I have always said that if something works for the pros, it must be good enough for us too.  Let’s look at what the proper way of using nutrition before and after your tennis matches (and workouts) to get the most out of your body.

Your Body’s Needs 101

The one thing your cells want first before anything else is glycogen.  Glycogen is the main source of energy storage for your cells to use.  Without an adequate level of glycogen in your body, you will experience a feeling of “hitting the wall” where your body has a hard time functioning.  This is where your body will look for energy through your fat cells, which are much harder to get to and will lower your athletic performance.  You can store about 200 calories of glycogen (good enough for about 2 hours of exercising), making it important to have adequate levels of fast absorbing energy sources with you if you are going to be exercising for longer periods than that, which usually happens in a tennis match.  This is why you can see professional tennis players having gels, bananas and granola bars with them during a match.  They can then keep their glycogen levels up to an adequate level to perform well on the court.  The foods they choose are fast absorbing and puts minimal strain on the digestive system.  Protein is not important without glycogen levels being there.  In fact, for muscle repair, your body can only take in around 20 grams of protein.  The rest gets pushed out of the body.

Before and During Your Tennis Match

Making sure you have a good amount of glycogen stored before your tennis match is essential.  An hour or so before your tennis match, make sure you have something that is low in fiber, fat and high in carbohydrates.  There are many choices for this but fruit is a great natural way of doing this.  As mentioned before, granola bars do the trick too.  Remember that most people’s digestive system shuts down during rigorous activity, making whatever foods you have in your stomach will just sit there, making it easy to get nauseous.  This is why eating something that is slow absorbing (high fats, fiber) an hour or so before your tennis match is a bad idea.  The same principle holds true during your tennis match.  If you are feeling like your body is “hitting the wall”, you are more than likely low in glycogen, making a fasts absorbing energy source important to have with you.  Everyone’s different regarding what your body allows you to eat before and during your matches so experiment during workouts where you can afford to make a mistake with food if needed.

After Your Tennis Match: The Myth About Protein

Contrary to popular belief, protein is not the first thing you should be giving your body after a rigorous tennis match (or workout). Your body doesn’t care about muscle repair until it has its glycogen levels back up.  If you eat only protein, your body will digest that protein into glycogen, which is hard for the body to do.  Focus on something that has a lot of natural sugar in it before adding protein.  I watched a top athlete once take a spoonful of jelly and then a spoonful of peanut butter after their workout, which is a good example of what the priority should be in terms of sugar vs. protein.  This should happen within 30 minutes to get the most out of your body’s ability to recover.  Experiment with foods that work for you and you should see a higher improvement in your body’s ability to perform during matches as well as the time it takes for recovery.