Food Management

Every senior tennis player accepts the fact that you should start and stay hydrated during a match; but what – if anything – should you EAT during a match?

Food is Fuel

You watch the pros on TV (that is, when we used to watch the pros on TV), and they are either drinking something or eating something to help maintain their energy as a match wears on.  Some of them have mixed drinks and others are sucking on tubes of something.

I was playing singles with world-ranked Gordon Hammes and he observed that I was drinking PowerAde Zero that had no added sugar in it.  The former scientist said that his drink HAS sugar in it because he wants to get the energy boost that it provides.

Food Choices

According Tom Brady, in his book “The TB12 Method, “The high sugar content in many commercially sold sports drinks can make them counterproductive.”

But my conversation with Gordon reminded me that I used to carry a little, one-ounce box of raisins in my tennis bag for just the same reason; and I have restarted that habit … and I find that the natural sugar boost does provide extra energy at the end of a match.

Several players I know carry a banana with them to eat during the match.  I have done the same; but did it more for the potassium than the energy factor.

How about YOU… what do you consume during a long, hot match to help you last?

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20 thoughts on “Food Management

  1. I haven’t found the need for the “food for extra energy stage”. I guess I’m not playing long enough or hard enough to run out of energy yet!! Good topic, though.

    Steve, but you found the energy to be today’s First Responder! thanks, george

  2. Like Steve Diamond, I do not need food while competing now, relatively short time on court and usually doubles. Twenty five years ago when I happily sometimes played two singles and two doubles in a tournament day, I found rice syrup (a brand name was Yinnies as I recall) to be quite effective as the sugar was more complex and requires 3-4 hours to totally metabolize versus the quick blood sugar up and down of honey, other simpler sugars. I do not have any science to back this up, just my empirical evidence – it worked for me.
    I hated gatorade effects and only drank something like that to recover, never during a match.

    Winder, interesting … never heard of rice syrup. thanks, george

  3. I, too, have not found the need for a food supplement while playing. I drink coconut water, with no added sugar, at changeovers to replace potassium and other electrolytes lost through perspiration. It is important to note that a high sugar intake prior to playing leads to the body responding by producing insulin to metabolize the sugar. This can sometimes lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) when the body uses the sugar for energy during exercise. Hypoglycemia can cause weakness and feeling faint, which is corrected by rapid intake of sugary drinks or food.

    Doc, good info! thanks, george

  4. well…. 😉

    from an evolutionary standpoint….. if the hunt took very long long, a little “sugar” was sometimes needed to keep up the energy expenditure (think of a sour berry from a bush while walking along)…….but NO food was consumed until after the hunt (exception was quick sharing of a raw heart between hunting group to “honor” the animal and the land that provided it…

    I’ve been on this narrative for a long time…..energetically, digestion is the one with the biggest need of the body… During my last pro-am about 9 years ago…(made it to the semi’s on the sunday) , besides from water, I consumed no food from 9 am until 5 pm – 5 matches ….I was one of a very few that didn’t succumb to cramps, injuries, heat fatigue etc.. the tourney was in late April so real heat and humidity.

    personally I don’t think very highly and specially trained athletes, are good to copy for our performance…. it doesn’t really apply to us. what the pros put out energy wise in 2.5 hours doesnt compare to what we do…

    im trusting what I know from my own experiences…. besides from that, I just don’t really know anything

    Marc, this from The Food Guru! (please pass the heart!) thanks, george

  5. George back in the day didn’t you eat raw honey for energy when you played in the Brookside Park Tennis tournament.

    Eric, great memory! Yes, and i choked on it right before you and i played in the finals (when you were exactly half my age… 16 vs 32). thanks, george

  6. Every senior tennis player accepts the fact that you should start and stay hydrated during a match; but what – if anything – should you EAT during a match? I read this in your email George and, just before I clicked the link, I thought…banana for potassium. Then a bunch appeared!

    I’m not a fan of sports drinks. Way too much sugar. One gets a glycogen boost, then a crash. The only time I would advise anyone to drink Gatorade, Powerade, etc is at the end of a match when you know it’s going to be over within minutes. Go ahead and chug some of that stuff and enjoy the boost. After the match, maybe dilute a bottle (a lot) with water to replace some electrolytes. My preferred drink is H20 with a slice of orange rind (for flavor) for pre-, on the court, and after-hydration.

    My go to after tennis (sometimes before) smoothie recipe: 6 ice cubes, pineapple, strawberries, banana, organic honey, apple cider vinegar. If I’ve perspired heavily, to avoid cramping I crush up two Tums and blend away.

    Alan, smoothie sounds great. I never heard of the idea of Tums (i assume for the calcium). thanks, george

  7. George, beyond maintaining energy levels, there’s also the issue of cramping during and after long matches—particularly for those of us who are fanatical enough to play during our hot Florida summers.
    The old remedy of drinking pickle juice is actually backed up by university research. (I’ll try to attach one article.) Drinking up to three ounces of common dill pickle juice has been shown to help prevent and minimize cramping and to be more effective than sports drinks or water. It’s also helps with hangovers!

    Jerry, believe it or not, i am a pickle juice believer and frequently take a swig when i get home from a hot match! thanks, george

  8. Living here in southern Arizona, where daily temps are in mid-high 100s, it’s very important to stay hydrated. I play, practice, and teach five days a week, starting at 7:00 am and am finished by 10:00 am. I start drinking two glasses of water when I first get up in the morning along with a banana and a fruit and nut granola bar. That combination seems to works for me with no upset stomach. When playing sets or tournaments, I take a thermos filled with a combination of Zero Gatorade and water for hydration. A good fluid intake also helps to keep the joints lubricated. I don’t eat anything on change overs, for fear of getting stomach pains. Now days, I don’t need the extra sugar. Getting a good night’s sleep helps determine my energy level the next day. Hope everyone has a nice, safe Labor Day weekend.

    Glenn, we played USTA league finals one year in Surprise, AZ and i couldn’t believe how i did NOT sweat on the court; but my shirt showed the salt residue from where it all evaporated! thanks, george

  9. I never felt the need for food during a match; but I have experienced cramps during long matches in warm weather. I’ve switched from Gatorade to coconut water which is healthier but provides the same level of electrolytes. When the going really gets rough I turn to pickle juice. That has prevented or stopped all cramps.

    Andy, see Jerry’s article above on pickle juice. thanks and see you on the hot courts tmw! george

  10. I don’t eat during a match at all as I don’t need to be trying to digest anything. Combo of Body Armour, alkaline water (I like the Icelandic brand) and Accelerade are my drinks. Never have had any issue with cramping at all with that combination. The fruit punch Accelerade is the best flavor wise and its the pink liquid that you see some pros have courtside……

    Mark, let’s hope that lasts you during the upcoming January tournaments ! thanks, george

  11. Have concluded that there’s plenty that isn’t known about how we vary as to our electrolyte needs and how long our glycogen stores might last.

    From what I’ve read, I’d think it would take some *serious* abuse to run out of glycogen from our livers – the stuff that supplies most of the glucose for our energy during a match. The rest (a lot) could come from the muscles, but not from where you’d ideally prefer to acquire it.

    Am convinced that electrolyte needs vary *greatly* from person to person. Pickle juice works wonderfully well for some for cramping – my wife, included – yet does *nothing* for me. I’m one of those weirdos for whom *Tums* works wonders. I *don’t* think that it’s the calcium ions that do the trick, but rather that little bit of magnesium in there. Personally testing such things makes a lot of sense to me.

    I *do* know that a couple of big swigs from an 18¢ (alt+0162) bottle of white vinegar does *not* work for my cramps, but can make yer pharynx feel less than ideal for a bit. Also know that if you walk into an emergency room in Charleston, SC, looking to find out which particular electrolytes yer short on, you’ll have a tough time convincing the emergency room doc that you’ve *not* been using cocaine – no matter *how* big a jug of Gatorade you strolled in with. 🙂 Full body cramps are *not* fun. 🙁

    Eating during a typical seniors match doesn’t compute for me.

    Kevin, as you said, every body is different… just watched Zverev win his singles match and they said “he doesn’t sweat” and doesn’t bring a towel to the back of the court! Not me… i drip. thanks, george

  12. Fascinating about Zverev and no towel. I got to do *tons* of “ball-boying* at out Challenger tournaments at our club in Savannah. James Blake was the only player that I recall *not* using a towel. He was also one of the *two* players who said “thank you” every time you sent him a ball. Michael Russell was the other. One remembers those sorts of things. 🙂

  13. I am unfortunately one of those players who sweats a lot. I have read that there is a big difference in the amount of sweat glands for athletes. I drink filtered water with Nunns tablets before playing. During play I drink coconut water mixed with zero power aid, green tea, and a half tea spoon of salt. I also have a separate bottle of filtered water. If you only drink water it will dilute your electrolytes. I recently changed from the power aid with sugar as I found I felt bloated and that sensation caused me to feel winded. Because depletion of sodium is the number one factor for cramping among those who sweat a lot I also carry packages of Cramps Away (promoted by James Blake) which stops cramping within minutes.

    Doug, good recommendation. thanks, george

  14. Peanut butter and bananas….both help me and are easy to digest.

    Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. george

  15. Gatorade/Powerade always helps me on the court; and I often eat a banana and/or a granola bar while I’m playing…..and on really hot, tournament days I bring out the “ice towel”….just a small towel I keep in ice water….great cooling at change-overs.

    Scoot, i too carry to ice towel! thanks, george

  16. First I’d heard of CrampsAWAY. Their FAQ included this:

    “How does CrampsAWAY work?

    It’s simple, fast and easy: Just open a packet of CrampsAWAY, swish it in your mouth for approximately 30-60 seconds, then swallow it. Instantly, CrampsAWAY’s proprietary, patent-pending solution stimulates the neuro-receptors on the tongue and in the mouth to instantly inhibit the nerves that are causing muscle cramps. Additional neuro-receptors in the intestinal tract are further stimulated by swallowing CrampsAWAY, extending its effects for up to two hours. So by targeting the actual cause of cramping, instead of using fluids and electrolyte replacement products in an attempt to relieve it, CrampsAWAY offers an entirely new solution for cramp relief.”

    That bit about having an *instant* effect on oro-pharyngeal neuro-receptors matches up with what that study on pickle juice said. I find both encouraging because my Tums often started working before I had even finished chewing one up. It had led me to wonder if it was all somehow in my head. 🙂

    Kevin, sound almost too good to be true? thanks, george

  17. It do. (In Hawk’s voice). And, if it sounds too good to be true. . .

    Since my first, nasty, nearly full body cramping episode back in 2006 in Philly, have tried to read up on the subject of cramping. Had always been incredibly little science-based info on it. As bad as it hurts, I guess it doesn’t kill anybody. Folks used to tell me “well, the *heart* is a muscle, so. . .” Well, it’s a different kind of muscle.

    Hoping that more info comes out before my Tums quit working. 🙂

  18. Godiva dark chocolate… in prodigious quantities….

    It may not help my game (much), but it makes me feel better when I lose.


    Marty, i must have my dark chocolate fix every afternoon. You may have noticed at Newk’s that i use to grab multiple choc chip cookies when they were out. thanks, george

  19. Profuse sweating for some, not so much for others: Will share here my experience –
    All my life I perspired heavily, especially when active in a sport. About 15 years ago (around 55 year old), I noticed my blood pressure was unusually high for me, 128 over 91.
    My doubles partner, a cardiologist, said “Before thinking about medication or anything, just cut out the salt and see what happens”. I had always been a heavy salt shaker user but immediately stopped and used far less in my cooking. It took over 20 days but my pressure went down to where it still is, 108-118 over 70-80. Another consistent change, – ever since I perspire very little while competing. Not having sopping wet shirts and sweat running into my eyes and the grip becoming slippery is nice. Another win for moderation.

    Winder, as a salt-aholic myself, i hope my BP stays low. thanks, george

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