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The Nutritional Considerations Of Athletes

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Table of contents

  1. Pre-performance
  2. Carbohydrate loading
  3. During-performance
  4. Post-performance

The nutritional considerations that athletes need to be aware of in order to improve their performance are categorised into 3 sections, pre-performance, during-performance and post-performance.


The athlete must be aware that it is important to be well-fueled and hydrated. Tennis players need to pay special attention to their pre-match meals and beverage choices as these foods and fluids may need to last for hours during tennis matches, (Nutrition and hydration tips for tennis).

During competitions, glycogen reserves can be lowered by 55% due to sustained aerobic activity lasting one hour long and these reserves can be fully depleted in a 2-hour session. As a result of this, according to Sports Dietitians Australia (SPA), tennis players should follow a habitually high carbohydrate diet 3-4 days before the competition, consisting of 6-10 grams per kilogram of carbohydrates, to ensure adequate glycogen stores before performance. A structured program of carbohydrate feeding is required to maintain adequate energy and glycogen availability throughout the tournament. Athletes can obtain carbohydrates from sources such as starchy vegetables. High carbohydrate diets have led to increased muscle glycogen stores which contribute to optimal performance, particularly in endurance-type activities (J Sports Sci Med 2013; Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendation), this can also be applied to tennis as tournaments and matches can last up to 3 hours. As a result of this, a low carbohydrate diet can impair high-intensity exercise and endurance performance, both of which are key aspects of tennis match play. Athletes are advised to eat meals high in complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain pasta, bread, cereals and fruits as they have a low glycemic index (GI), resulting in a slow release of energy which will benefit the tennis player during competition as they will be able to conserve energy and maintain performance. The protein intake guidelines for an elite athlete, training at high intensity and duration on a daily basis for the Australian Open Competition is approximately 1.6 g/kg (J Sports Sci Med 2013; Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendation). While carbohydrate is the predominant fuel that is used during tennis, the consumption of fats also contributes to energy provision during a match lasting more than 2 hours. The suggested amount of daily fat required to ensure adequate intramuscular triacylglycerol stores for the athlete is 2 g/kg (J Sports Sci Med 2013; Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendation).

As stated by Racketlounge; Tennis Player Nutrition, tennis players should limit or avoid caffeinated beverages such as iced teas, coffee and colas, especially right before a tennis match as these may cause additional fluid loss as urine, which is not beneficial for the athlete as they must be well hydrated before a match. Staying hydrated is pertinent for tennis players as the intensity of matches, as well as the hot conditions in which they play can lead to high sweat rates which results in water and electrolyte losses, according to Sports Dietitians Australia, therefore impairing performance, skill and decision making. As a result of this, athletes should drink 500mL of fluid 2 hours before exercising to ensure adequate hydration as stated by the British Nutrition Foundation; Hydration for optimum athletic performance.

Tennis players should eat a meal 3-4 hours prior to a match as recommended by Sports Dietitians Australia, an example of a meal consists of a turkey or grilled chicken sandwich, an apple and a glass of water or sports drink (Optimum Tennis; Proper Tennis Nutrition For Tennis Players). These meals should contain carbohydrates for fuel as well as fluids for hydration, two aspects which are significantly important if an athlete wishes to perform well during the match. As competition time approaches, 1-2 hours before playing (Nutrition and hydration tips for tennis), the athlete should have a snack or light meal, consisting of easy to digest foods such as fruit yogurt, bananas or an energy bar, these foods should also be rich in carbohydrates but relatively low in fat, fibre and protein as they take a long period of time to digest. Liquid sources of carbohydrates such as a fruit smoothie or liquid meal replacements are also good options of nutrition for an athlete as solid foods may not sit well before a match. Carbohydrate solution drinks and gels are preferred by athletes in the last 30 minutes prior to competition and will give the athlete a boost of energy as they begin the competition, therefore improving their performance.

Carbohydrate loading

Carbohydrate loading is the term used to describe a nutritional strategy that aims to maximise the body’s storage of glycogen in preparation for high-intensity activities such as tennis. By carbohydrate loading, the athlete attempts to prolong athletic performance and delay on the onset of fatigue. Carbohydrate loading can be done 1-2 days before the competition and should be followed by lower intensity training sessions, also known as training tapering, in order to conserve glycogen stores. This nutritional strategy is executed through the consumption of meals that are rich in carbohydrates, increasing the daily intake to 10-12g/kg, as stated by IdealNutrition; Carbohydrate Loading. As tennis match durations vary greatly in length and can take 1-4 hours, carbohydrate loading for the athlete is essential in order to provide enough energy to last the length of the match and to delay the onset of fatigue.

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As the Australian Open is usually played in the last fortnight of January, in hot conditions, replacing fluid losses and keeping cool at breaks in play is crucial. The replenishment of carbohydrates during breaks is essential in enhancing performance and delaying the onset of fatigue. Depending on the length and intensity of the match, the athlete will need to refuel and rehydrate in order to maintain performance. This can be done with fruit and muesli bars, as well as specialised sports foods such as carbohydrate gels, energy bars and sports drinks, which are easier for the athlete to digest.

According to Sports Dietitians Australia, carbohydrate supplementation is required during performance in order to avoid glycogen depletion. It is recommended by J Sports Sci Med 2013; Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendation, that athletes consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour during matches to maintain and replenish muscle glycogen. The replenishment of glycogen can be done through carbohydrate feeding in the form of sports drinks as these are easiest to consume in a short period of time. The consumption of carbohydrates during competition is essential for tennis players as tennis is a high-intensity sport that may last for long periods of time, as a result of this, muscle glycogen needs to be replenished and maintained in order for the athlete to continue to perform. Along with this, the consumption of carbohydrates allows for the tennis player to delay the onset of fatigue, thus enabling the athlete to continue to perform.

Adequate hydration through regular fluid intake must be maintained during performance as the intensity of a tennis tournament means that an athlete’s rate of dehydration and fluid loss is increased. Performance has been shown to be impaired when an athlete is hypohydrated by as little as 2% of body mass, and a reduction of 5% of fluids can decrease the athlete’s work capacity by about 30%, according to J Sports Sci Med, 2006; Hydration and Temperature in Tennis. During tennis matches, it is important for athletes to consume adequate fluid and electrolytes, this can be done through simply drinking plain water or carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks. It is recommended by J Sports Sci Med, 2006; Hydration and Temperature in Tennis, that an athlete drinks 200-300mL of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise in order to maintain hydration levels and performance.


It is significantly important to prioritise recovery nutrition as soon as possible after the completion of a match. Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrates for fuel, protein for muscle repair and development, and plenty of fluid and electrolytes in order to replace sweat losses, as recommended by Sports Dietitians Australia. A high-carbohydrate meal with lean protein should be consumed so as to maximise muscle glycogen recovery which will activate protein synthesis in the athlete’s muscles (J Sports Sci Med 2013; Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendation). Post-performance nutritional consumptions for athletes should avoid high-fat and high-protein foods as these will contribute to dehydration, therefore hindering the recovery process, according to Racketlounge; Tennis Player Nutrition.

Recovery and rehydration after competition is vital for health and subsequent tennis performance. After a tennis match, the athlete’s initial concern should be replacing fluid loss. An athlete’s total fluid loss can be determined by weighing the athlete before a match and then subtracting the athlete’s post-exercise weight and amount of fluid ingested during play (J Sports Sci Med, 2006; Hydration and Temperature in Tennis). Proper rehydration after competition should follow the guideline that athletes must consume 150% of the amount of fluid lost during exercise, according to the British Nutrition Foundation; Hydration for optimum athletic performance.

The consumption of protein and carbohydrates are significantly important for the athlete after a tournament as it helps to refuel and rebuild the body. Immediately replacing depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores is essential for recovery, this can be done through an intake high in carbohydrates and food with a high glycemic index (GI). 1.5g/kg of carbohydrates should be consumed after matches to facilitate glycogen repletion, J Sports Sci Med 2013; Nutrition for Tennis: Practical Recommendation. Protein is essential for effective recovery, thus, after a tournament has been completed, the athlete should consume 0.3g/kg of protein, as stated by Tennis Medicine: A Complete Guide to Evaluation, Treatment, and Rehabilitation.

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The Nutritional Considerations Of Athletes. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
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