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Fuelling the Elite: Tennis

 

Physiological and physical demands

Tennis involves numerous accelerations and decelerations, repetitive overhead motions, and whole-body movements during stroke shots. Match-play is characterised by short bouts (4–10 seconds) of high intensity work and short recovery times (10–20 seconds), interrupted by periods of longer rest (60–90 seconds) between games. Average heart rates in trained players range between 140–160 bpm in singles (1 vs 1) and slightly lower, 94-164 bpm in doubles. This may rise to 190–200 bpm (almost max!) during longer, high intensity rallies. 

Players generally work between 46% and 54% of their VO2 max during match play, although this has been shown as 86% of maximum heart rate during singles competition. Although tennis may be classified as an endurance sport, these values classify tennis players as being highly anaerobically trained. It’s safe to say that Tennis requires the ultimate athlete- strength, endurance and speed.

Tennis is played on a wide variety of surfaces including clay, hard and grass courts. Games are played as best of 3 sets (best of 5 sets for grand-slams) and can last between 1 to over 5 hours. Playing surface plays a role in the demands of the game and can suit different players strengths. Players with a strong serve prefer fast surfaces (e.g. hard or grass) allowing them to move forward towards the net, whereas strong baseline players are more effective on slower surfaces (e.g. clay). Distance covered by elite players in a tennis match is generally 3km (based on a player competing in 2 sets), but may reach over 4.5km (for best of 3) and well over 6-7km for a long 5 set game. Work to rest ratios can range from 1:2 – 1:4 depending on surface and style of play, but the large amount of accelerations and decelerations (almost 90% of distance covered) put high load on the body and stress the muscular system. The amount of energy expended by elite players depends on court surface and style of play, but is important to consider when playing tournament tennis (usually one game every 2 days) and developing a nutrition program.

 

Women Men
60 min match (kcal) 443 649
90 min match (kcal) 664 973
150 min match (kcal) 1107 1622
300 min match (kcal) 3244

 

A comparison on of energy expenditure in elite male and female tennis players (Ranchordas et al., 2013)

A week in the life of... a pro tennis player

Fitting in quality training sessions can be a challenge for an elite player, with the world Tennis tour providing the opportunity for tournaments almost every week in the professional calendar. In this instance, players will alternate match days (which also include a warm up, cool down and often yoga) with recovery days working on tactics and strategies for the game ahead. Focus is on recovering the body to be able to cope with the demands of multiple competition days with a chance of back-to-back 5 hour games. Players will use ice baths, massage, active recovery and nutrition to promote recovery. 

In rare time off and training blocks- players will focus on both strength, speed, agility and tennis specific training. This involves long days with multiple sessions split throughout the day. Players perform movement specific strength exercises focusing on shoulders, legs and core aiming to train the body to cope with repetitive movements. Repetitive injuries are common in tennis, with training aiming to build robust muscles. Here’s an example day for a player in pre-season with multiple sessions:


7am 9am 11am 1pm 3pm 5pm
Full Body resistance Training Agility
session
Rest Yoga- stretch and recovery session Tennis specific stroke drills followed by a practice match

 

Nutrition 

Tennis players should follow a habitually high carbohydrate diet of between 6-10 g/kg to help support energy intake and the demands of a many competitions throughout the year (see the table below for more detail). Glycogen stores should be continuously topped up, used as energy and replaced with adequate carbohydrate feeding after tough sessions and match-pay. Carbohydrate intake is highest the day before a game and the day of with intakes towards 10g/kg. Players do not always know when their game will start, which presents a fuelling challenge. Players should aim to consume 1-4 g/kg of carbohydrate in the pre-match meal, usually around 2-3 hours before. If the start looks like it is prolonged, then players are encouraged to feed with around 1g/kg of carbohydrate every hour until match-play to keep topping up stores. 30-60 g/hour of carbohydrate should be ingested when match play exceeds 90-120 minutes. With plenty of time to take on food and fluid when changing ends, players should look to take on carbohydrate little and often from a range of bars, gels, gummies and fruit

Nutrition for Tennis based on training phases (Ranchordas et al., 2013)

 


 

Nutrition for varying training phases in Elite Tennis
General Preparation Specific Preparation Competition / ‘In-season’ Transition
Training goals
and
characteristics:
Basic strength and aerobic development High-volume, low-intensity activities Tennis-specific energy system and strength / maximal-intensity exercise development. Higher intensity, reduced volume Maintenance / stabilisation of technique, strength and speed ‘undulating’ low- and high-intensity activities Physiological and psychological recovery and restoration Volume and intensity is lowest
Dietary goals: Provide sufficient energy and macro micronutrients to support high-volume training and muscular adaptations. Energy intake might be reduced as volume lowers but still provides sufficient nutrients and fluids to support adaptation. Provide sufficient nutrition and hydration to optimise recovery and performance. Reduce energy and carbohydrate intake to its lowest, although this depends on individual physical goals
Carbohydrate (g/kg/day) 6-7 7-8 8-10 4-5
Protein
(g/kg/day)
1.5 - 1.7 >1.7 1.5 - 1.7 1.5 - 1.7
Fat
(g/kg/day)
1.1 - 1.5 1.1 - 1.5 1.0 1.0
 

With the majority of competitions taking place in the summer, hydration poses a challenge for players performing in the heat. Players should consume 2-3L daily, in addition to 5-10ml per kg of body mass (e.g 490ml for a 70kg player) in the hours pre match. Fluid containing electrolytes should be consumed every change-over in mild to moderate temperatures of < 27°C but in temperatures greater than 27°C players should consciously drink to prevent body mass losses of over 2% through sweating.

Recovery plays a key role to allow players to compete day after day. Immediately post-match, players consume a recovery shake with balanced protein, carbohydrate, electrolytes and vitamins and minerals. This is a convenient solution to kick start the recovery process before a balanced meal 30-60 mins later. To maximise the recovery process, players will take on small amounts of carbohydrate (1g/kg) in multiple small meals and snacks every hour for up to 4 hours to maximise glycogen resynthesis so they can go again.

References

Ranchordas, M. K., Rogersion, D., Ruddock, A., Killer, S. C., & Winter, E. M. (2013). Nutrition for tennis: practical recommendations. Journal of sports science & medicine12(2), 211.

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