Importance of Sports Nutrition – Fueling Success

Every athlete should have a solid understanding of what their body needs in order to function at its peak during competition. If you take your career seriously and want to perform at your best during tournaments then you must have a practical daily eating plan that emphasizes on:

  1. Providing fuel for your physical activities
  2. Repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue after competition
  3. Optimizing athletic performance during competition
  4. Promoting overall health and wellness

Providing Fuel for Physical Activity

Your diet should provide enough energy so that you can perform on the tennis court effectively. Most athletes however take in fewer calories than they need, due to different reasons (e.g. vanity – body needs to look a certain way), which negatively affects their performance. Some athletes even loose weight throughout the season, which should never happen because when you loose weight then you also decrease the amount of fuel you have available because your glycogen stores decrease as well as fat-free mass (muscle mass). If you don’t consume enough carbohydrates then your body starts using muscle protein (branch chain amino acids) to replenish glycogen stores!

Repairing & Rebuilding Muscle Tissue

After a tough match or training session you step off the tennis court and your energy stores are depleted, which means your muscle – and liver glycogen stores are low. Muscle glycogen stores deplete before your liver, which is your gas tank, provides as much glucose as it has. Once the liver runs out of glucose reserves (glycogen), the body will choose to break down muscle protein instead of allowing blood glucose levels to drop too low. If the body wouldn’t find an alternative fuel source (muscle protein) then ultimately glucose wouldn’t be available and you would fall into a coma because the brain only runs on glucose.

Therefore, you should drink a mixture of carbohydrates and a bit of protein within 30 minutes after training or competition. The carbohydrate/protein mix (e.g. Muscle Milk, Chocolate Milk) aids in the repairing - and building process of muscle tissue, preventing some muscle loss, and reducing delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) by reducing the amount of protein degradation.

There is a linear relationship between your glycogen levels and your rate of perceived exertion (RPE; a scale of how difficult the work feels/is). For more information read the attached research article “Carb Oxidation and RPE”.

Optimizing Athletic Performance during Competition

How important nutrition can be in optimizing your performance on the tennis court becomes more evident in endurance events like the Tour de France (~250 hour race). In the 1990’s the Tour de France was decided by seconds! Wouldn’t you think that during a race that long proper nutrition plays a decisive role? Lance Armstrong’s team spend ~$12 million annually for his training, analyzing everything, even his urine during different stages of a race just to determine his absorption rate of various nutrients.It is important to understand that the nutrition needs of the general population (e.g. your parents) and elite athletes are different! In the general population, the relationship between body fat percentage (BF%) and the amount of calories consumed is linear (BF% up the more calories consumed) but with elite athletes that relationship is the opposite – the more calories they took in, the less body fat they had and the less calories they took in, the more body fat they had!

Why?

This can occur because when elite athletes don’t consume enough calories, their muscles are wasting in between bouts of exercise, which results in their %BF to increase (because they are loosing lean mass). So, it wasn’t that the athletes were gaining fat – they were loosing muscle. Those athletes that took in more calories were able to preserve their muscles (lean mass) and have less BF%.

P.S.

The importance of optimal sports nutrition can be seen on elite athletes like Duane Wade, a member of the Miami Heat NBA basketball team. Duane Wade used to brag about his poor eating habits, saying he eats no vegetables but lots of fries and burgers from McDonald's. Early in his career one could observe that he was having lots of injuries and over the years it was reported that he changed his eating habits. He has been injury free and returned to be an outstanding athlete again. How much of this can be attributed to proper nutrition is unclear but it appears plausible that nutrition contributes to enhanced performance.