Tennis is a much loved and widespread sport, which requires a huge amount of energy, both physical and mental. Its practice involves constant and lasting dedication, and leads athletes to spend most of their time directly in their habitat: the field. Discipline, flying rhythms and healthy competition are the pillars of this sport. Let's see together how a tennis player can manage his nutrition and integration to better face every match.
Intermittent sport, between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism
Tennis is technically defined as an intermittent discipline : a high intensity sport, characterized by movements at different speeds alternating with short pauses. From the metabolic point of view, different, alternating commitments are therefore required of the body. In fact, aerobic, anaerobic lactacid and anaerobic alactacid metabolism are used. This translates into specific and important dietary needs, in order to support the body both during jerks and rapid movements and during very prolonged performances. The effort, the running, the sprint can be high intensity and create a muscular tension, while the hit to the ball requires a medium intensity commitment, which can become intense, also depending on the duration of the match.
It is not possible, in fact, to know in advance how long the match will last : the longest in the history of tennis currently took place at Wimbledon 2010, in the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes . It is therefore quite evident that a correct diet can be of great influence to guarantee the energy necessary to support such an effort.
Calorie consumption and needs of the tennis player
It is good to remember that every athlete has specific nutritional needs and their own basal metabolic rate , which depend on age, sex, muscle mass and duration and intensity of training. However, we can identify these general parameters to establish calorie consumption:
- in a single or double of tennis, at an amateur level , about 7 kcal / kg body weight / h are consumed ;
- in a tennis single, at a professional level , 8-9 kcal / kg weight / h are consumed on average ;
- in a doubles tennis, at a professional level , an average of 6/8 kcal / kg weight / h is consumed .
The energy expenditure is therefore very high, and the diet adopted must be balanced and in relation to the caloric consumption required by training. Even the surrounding environment, understood as temperature and humidity conditions, greatly influence the energy demand, through autonomous and / or behavioral mechanisms. However, the intermittent activity of this sport means that players, in most environments (<35 ° C), are able to regulate their body temperature within safe limits.
We must start from a premise: there is no exclusive diet valid for all tennis players . Instead, it is correct to think by always setting a varied and balanced diet , which brings all the macronutrients in the right proportions . In general, it is a good idea to orient yourself to the consumption of 5 meals a day (divided into breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner), dividing the macronutrients in "Mediterranean style": 50-55% of the kcal should derive from carbohydrates, 15 -20% from Protein and 30-35% from fats. This allows for good digestion and sufficient energy reserves for the tennis player's activities.
Carbohydrate management plays a key role in tennis performance. It is known in sports that diets high in carbohydrates allow an increase in muscle glycogen stores , and that this is closely linked to optimal performance in endurance activities. A low-carbohydrate diet should be avoided: it can compromise high-intensity exercise and even endurance. During high intensity matches, carbohydrate oxidation contributes significantly to ATP production.
As a general guideline, elite tennis players should therefore have a diet usually with high CHOs, between 6 and 10 g / kg weight / day (women generally require a slightly lower amount than men).
Per racquet sports, data on dietary protein requirements are limited, and most of the guidelines refer to exclusively strength or endurance athletes. However, tennis includes both strength and endurance aspects, and it is therefore more appropriate to estimate the needs of these athletes based on the volume and intensity of training or competition. Based on these considerations, the protein intake guidelines for tennis players who train daily at high intensity and duration should be around 1.6 g / kg weight / day . Per a person of normal build who performs an average activity to maintain good muscle, the daily needs may vary as follows:
- 0,8 g / kg weight / day if you play 3-4 hours a week (adding training and match);
- 1.2 g / kg weight / day if you play for 6-7 hours a week (always adding training and match);
- Between 1.6 and 1.8 g / kg weight / day for competitive athletes with daily training and frequent meetings.
Due to the lack of a true "off season" for the nature of professional tennis, athletes must maintain optimal body composition throughout the year. In addition to carbohydrates, the oxidation of fats also contributes to providing energy, especially when the match lasts for a long time. The guidelines indicate that the recommended amounts to ensure adequate intramuscular reserves of triglycerides for a tennis player are around 2 g / kg weight / day . In any case, whatever the athlete's dietary needs, it is necessary to include sources of fats in the diet, also to allow the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, the synthesis of hormones and to promote the functioning of cell membranes.
Water is indispensable in any person's diet. You cannot give up on proper hydration, which must be calibrated according to the needs related to fatigue, the environment in which you train and the sweating that derives from it. Tennis players need to drink plenty of fluids, and intakes can vary from 400 to 1000ml / hour based on individual tolerance and atmospheric conditions. It is important to drink often, to make sure that these large volumes are better tolerated. 200-250ml of water at 15-20 minute intervals is optimal considering the gastric emptying time. Especially for agonists, water may not be enough: with intense sweating, important quantities of mineral salts are also lost, and it is advisable to ensure the correct intake of beverages (or sports drinks) containing sodium to avoid the risk of hyponatremia.
In general, the needs of the tennis player are no different from those of other endurance athletes. Of central importance are above all vitamins, useful for combating free radicals that can form when the energy demand is very high, and minerals, essential for restoring the hydro-saline balance after intense sweating. Muscle repair is also very important, and for this purpose the integration of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) is useful. Here are the supplements with the most scientific evidence:
- Antioxidants such as CoenzymeQ10 , Pycnogenol and Astaxanthin : necessary to counteract free radicals, which are inevitably formed following intense physical activity. CoenzymeQ10 is a fundamental element for the correct functioning of the mitochondrion, the Energy plant of the cell that produces ATP . Pycnogenol , obtained from maritime pine, is able to bind to Protein such as collagen and elastin, protecting them from degradation and the action of various harmful enzymes and thus slowing down the cellular aging processes. Astaxanthin _, derived from algae, is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the world, also able to cross the Blood-Brain Barrier.
- BCAAs : the branched chain amino acids, or isoleucine, leucine and valine , have the function of repairing the muscles when "consumed" by physical activity, and also give the body ready-to-use energy. Taking BCAAs is also able to counteract the production of lactic acid.
- Isotonic drinks or gels : to provide the correct amount of energy and mineral salts during performance, without risking glycemic peaks or annoying drops in pressure and energy. As we have seen previously, matches can really last a long time: it is therefore important not to be caught unprepared and to have comfortable solutions available for support during the match.
- Calcium and phosphorus: minerals essential for the proper functioning of the musculoskeletal system.
- Magnesium: essential for muscle activity, magnesium is involved in the processes of contraction and relaxation; moreover, it contributes to the normal function of muscles (also considering that ATP is the main source of energy also for muscle contraction).
- Potassium and sodium: electrolytes that the body needs to maintain the correct water balance. Sodium also participates in the transmission of signals, and potassium is a regulator of primary importance because it conditions muscle excitability, contributes to normal muscle function, the normal functioning of the nervous system, the maintenance of normal blood pressure and acid balance. -base.
- B vitamins : in addition to the antioxidant function, the B vitamins participate in the metabolic process of macronutrients. Vitamin B1 for carbohydrates, B2 for fats and B6 for Protein, while B12 , as well as promoting the absorption of sugars and Protein, is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
Attention to the post-match: the importance of recovery
The management of post-training or post-competition is also very important: in this phase it is necessary to ensure that the body is supplied with everything it needs for optimal recovery. The tennis player's nutrition and post-match integration aims to restore hydrosaline stocks, repair the protein structures of the muscles from damage caused by effort and promote the replenishment of muscle glycogen. This phase should therefore not be neglected at all. But how to behave for a correct recovery?
- Restoration of hydrosaline supplies - in addition to remembering to drink abundantly back in the changing room, the consumption of fresh fruit, smoothies or extracts is also excellent for recovering vitamins and minerals (in addition to the possibility of integrating them).
- Repairing Muscle Damage - The vigorous activity required by tennis can damage muscle Fibre and recovery can become difficult and slow. It is mainly the amino acids that allow the muscle to be repaired. BCAAs and glutamine, present in meat, fish, eggs and some cheeses are therefore indispensable.
- Restoration of glycogen stores - Complex carbohydrates such as pasta, bread or crackers, accompanied by simple sugars can help in the restoration of glycogen stores. Even the integration of highly available carbohydrates such as branched cyclodextrins can participate in the glycogen resynthesis process, which we recall is completed in about 20 hours.
Whether it is a meeting between professional tennis players or a challenge between friends, in this sport the nutritional aspect must not be underestimated, because there is an important physical commitment both from a muscular and endurance point of view. Nutrition and supplementation can be used to increase performance, avoid loss of form and minimize the reactions that occur during and after exertion. And, quoting a quote from champion Rafael Nadal, “ No ball is the same as the one that precedes it. No shot is identical to another. Every time you prepare to receive one you must therefore evaluate, in a fraction of a second, the trajectory and speed of the ball and decide how, how much Energy and where to try to counter.". It is therefore good to be ready. Across the board.
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