Tennis Nutrition: Energy, Proteins and Gluten

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Tennis Nutrition: Energy, Proteins and Gluten

Just as technological advances in tennis have massively changed the sport over the decades, so changes in training and awareness about nutrition have also influenced how players approach the game. Novak Djokovic recently highlighted just how important nutritional considerations have become for players, when he announced that he had completely cut gluten from his diet.

He claimed that it completely changed his life, and encouraged everyone to try it themselves. Andy Murray took him up on his advice, but it’s unclear whether he has found such a change in diet to be as useful as Djokovic has.

Not all talk about nutrition needs to relate to gluten, of course, and there are many other things we must take into consideration when building a healthy tennis diet. Let's examine some of them. Energy bars for tennis When playing tennis at a high level, the use of so-called “energy bars” can, in some cases, be very useful.

In fact, carbohydrate intake before any sporting activity is essential, so as to build up as much glycogen as possible. But in order to “save” glycogen reserves during events, it is important to introduce other carbohydrates during practice sessions and matches.

Since downtime in matches is rather short, liquids with maltodextrins, which are generally digested fairly quickly, are used. At the same time, however, these carbohydrates should not be consumed in excessive quantities, because they would cause excessive “glycemic steering.” This impacts the production of insulin, which leads to hypoglycemia, and negatively affects performance.

For this reason, integrating energy bars into your wider diet can have positive effects, as they have nutrients like proteins, lipids and fiber, and they can be consumed without risking an excessive increase in blood sugar.

That being said, digestibility is inferior when compared to liquids, so each athlete must find the balance of the two that works for them. Proteins: quantity and quality It is generally recommended that your daily protein intake equates to about 0.8-1g/kg of body weight.

So, a person weighing 70 kg should take 60-70g of protein per day. According to the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, proteins should represent about 10-15% of total calories. Other food philosophies, such as the Zone Diet, provide a much higher percentage of protein (30%).

Without a doubt, a sportsperson needs a higher caloric intake than a sedentary person, and therefore also requires more protein. The quality of proteins is just as important as the quantity: i.e. whether the source of the protein is from an animal or a plant.

Overall, it is a good idea to use proteins from both animal and plant origin in a complementary way. Almost all carbohydrate-rich foods are of vegetable origin. Cereals, for example, have an average of about 70-75% carbohydrates, while legumes and starches are also very rich in carbohydrates.

The problem of protein deficiency in vegetable diets, such as those followed by vegetarians, can be solved by the consumption of protein-rich plants. Here are some examples (along with how much protein in grams 100g of such food contains): soy (37g), seitan (36g), pine nuts (31g), dried lentils (22g), wheat (12g).

The main advantage of animal proteins is the presence of essential amino acids, as well as the fact that the proteins contained in animal products are easier to digest. Unfortunately, plants often contain compounds that make some of the proteins contained within them harder to digest.

For this reason, even if they have a high percentage of protein, foods like soy do not have the same protein quality as meat, fish, milk or eggs. It is therefore very important for athletes, and therefore also for tennis players, that most of the proteins they consume come from animal products.

For tennis players engaging in high intensity activity, sports nutrition experts recommend a daily protein intake of 1.5 and 2.2g/kg of body weight. However, such high-protein diets (with a percentage of protein intake over 35% of total daily calorie intake) are not recommended for extended periods of use, especially if not engaged in regular intense physical activity.

Gluten: many doubts, few certainties It is worth briefly talking about gluten, especially given its high profile of late. The issue of eliminating gluten from sporting diets has been a hot topic since Djokovic did so, apparently to good effect.

It is important to note, however, that some people suffer from a gluten intolerance. When these people cut gluten from their diets they will definitely experience several positive side-effects, especially when it comes to sporting performance.

This was likely the case with Djokovic. The vast majority of the population does not suffer from such an intolerance. For these people, the efficacy of eliminating gluten from their diet is unclear, especially in the long run.

It is a fact that cereals such as wheat, barley, oats and rye can be replaced by rice and corn, as well as other cereals not belonging to the family of grasses (buckwheat, quinoa, etc.). But focusing only on gluten-containing cereals is not essential, or at least not for everyone.

Finally, a clarification must be made: gluten is a protein complex that is not naturally found in cereals. It is formed after the cereal has been reduced to flour and then formed into a mixture, when prolammins and glutenins (present in cereals) come in contact with water while the flour is kneaded.

For this reason, derivatives of cereals contain gluten (durum wheat pasta, soft wheat bread, barley bread, etc.), and not cereals as they are found in nature.
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