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Circle Game
May 1999 Article

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Mortal Tennis/Circle Game Archive

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Circle Game By Greg Moran


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Fuel For Thought

Greg Moran Photo
Greg Moran

The words flew out of my mouth faster than a Venus Williams serve. I had just arrived home from a long day on the courts to find my house littered with junk food wrappers, empty soda cans, and my two children, sprawled out in front of the television in a sugar induced coma.

As I picked up wrapper after wrapper and stepped on small pieces of chocolate that had somehow missed their targets ( my children's mouths) I felt the pressure building inside. I fought a valiant inner battle, but eventually I succumbed and exploded. After several minutes of my non-stop tirade, I punctuated my sentiments with those classic words, "you are what you eat."

We've all heard those words before. Your mother said them, my mother said them, and as much as we may hate to admit it, Mom was right!! What we eat (and drink) has a tremendous effect on not only our physical, but also our psychological well being. In fact, more and more studies are linking many illnesses and chronic conditions, as well as psychological disorders, to one's nutritional habits.

Peter Burwash, in his book Total Health, says that "most of modern society has an enormous addiction to food that is extremely unhealthy." This addiction to a fast food, quick fix, instant gratification lifestyle has led us down a path of horrendous nutrition which makes our bodies a breeding ground for fatigue and disease.

As tennis players, nutrition can play just as important a factor in our performance on the court as the strings in our rackets. Unfortunately though, few tennis players give nutrition the attention it deserves when putting together their training programs.

Have you ever come off the court after a two hour match wondering why you "ran out of gas" and had "nothing left for the third set." If the answer is yes, and I suspect it is, the answer could well lie in your nutritional program. You may have put in your time on the court and in the gym but have you taken a good look at your time in the kitchen? If you're like most, you have not and this is a big mistake.

Experts around the world are discovering new facts each day which stress the importance of proper nutrition for not only the professional athlete who plays for play, but also the weekend warrior who plays for fun and exercise.

To put it bluntly, what you eat and drink before, during, and after a match will have a direct effect on not only your performance on the court but your recovery and ability to play the next day.

Nutrition is the fuel which we use to make our bodies run efficiently and in order to perform at your best, you need to provide yourself with enough "quality fuel" to carry you through a match. This "fueling up" process begins long before the player you take the court and continues well after the match has ended.


During a tough match your body undergoes a very complex process. Simply, the food that your body has been given is stored in the liver and muscles. This food is then converted into glycogen which is gradually broken down into glucose from which your muscles draw their energy. Unfortunately, your body can only hold so much fuel at one time, so the supply is limited and needs to constantly be replenished, much like the gas tank of a car.

Once your supply of fuel begins to run low your body will begin to tire and your performance will begin deteriorate. It will happen in subtle ways; you won't get up to the short ball quite as fast as you did in the first set or your serve will lose a few miles an hour and land a few feet shorter in the service box. You may still get around the court but you may arrive to the ball a split-second later, and your shots will lose just a bit of their power.

Thus, it is imperative that you provide your body with enough of the proper, high energy, fuel and be periodically replenished it so that it can perform at a high energy level over an extended period of time. This should be the goal when you put together your nutritional program.

The average American diet consists of 40% fats, 15-20% protein and the rest carbohydrates. For an athlete wishing to maximize his performance, these percentages are far below the recommended proportions. An athlete's diet should include 60% carbohydrates, no more than 30% fats, and 10-15% protein.


"Carbohydrates are the main and most efficient fuel for muscles," explains Jane Brody, award-winning columnist and author of the best-selling book Jane Brody's Nutrition Book. Carbohydrates come in two major groups: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates such as chocolate, candy and soda are not long-term high energy foods and thus, are not recommended for athletes. Complex carbohydrates such as pasta, breads, grains, fruits and vegetables are among the foods with the desired supply of energy.


Fats are present in many of our foods and serve as a cushioning and support system for the vital organs, thus protecting them from injury. Fats also come in various forms. Saturated fats such as you find in red meats and egg yolks tend to raise the cholesterol levels in the body and increase the risk of heart disease.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as those found in peanut oil, olive oil, and vegetable oil are the recommended fats for athletes and should be used when cooking.


Protein, which can be found in red meat, turkey, tuna, and fish is present in every cell in the body. Muscles are primarily composed of protein and when they are injured, it is protein which helps them to heal. Protein is also needed to nourish the skin, fingernails, bones and liver.

An every day diet constructed with these percentages in mind will provide you with a balanced, high energy nutritional program which translates into more energy on the court. (See chart #1 for designing your own nutritional program.)


In addition to the food you eat, what you drink is also extremely important. Water is the most often recommended fluid for athletes. "Few people, including athletes, appreciate the critical importance of water in keeping the body machinery operating at peak efficiency," says Jane Brody. If our muscles are not well hydrated they will feel weak and tired and eventually stop working.

How much water does a tennis player need? This is not an easy question to answer because the body does not accurately put out signals announcing its need for water. The body has to lose approximately 4% of its body weight before its thirst mechanism will kick in. Unfortunately, by this time we will have already noticed a decrease in energy as fatigue has begun to set in.

So what's the answer? A general rule of thumb, says Jane Brody, is that "about one quart of water should be consumed for every 1000 calories of food eaten. For the typical athlete who consumes between 3000-6000 calories per day, this means that between 3-6 quarts of water should be given to the body each day."

You should begin your match well-hydrated and continue to give your body water throughout the match. Even if you are not thirsty, drink. Remember, once the thirst comes, it is too late.


In addition to the everyday nutritional guidelines you should follow, there are certain modifications you can make in order to "cram" for a big match. The Pre-Match Meal is designed to provide your body with the energy it needs in addition to keeping you from getting hungry during the match. This meal should be eaten roughly 2-3 hours before the match so that your body will have time to absorb its "fuel."

It should be between 500-700 calories, high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fats. Just before going on the court it is also a good idea to drink 2-3 glasses of water, it will be absorbed quickly. (See chart #2 for a sample Pre-Match meal.)

During the match the most important thing you can do is keep replacing the fluids you lose, preferably with water. At least two glasses of water should be consumed every half hour, a few ounces every 10-15 minutes, or at each change over. Stay away from soda, it sits in the stomach and can cause irritation and discomfort.

Many players, when feeling the onset of fatigue, will try for a "quick fix" and eat a candy bar or drink a soda. This is a dangerous tactic. Although the body will experience a quick boost in energy, it will just as quickly feel a great letdown.

When a simple sugar such as candy is ingested it causes an insulin reaction which shoots the energy level up. This is deceiving because the player's energy level will soon drop back down, possibly below where it was before he ate the candy."

At this point the player will crave another candy bar, eat one, and the same results will occur. This puts him into a peak and valley syndrome as his energy level shoots up and down. This makes for a very erratic and undesirable performance.


After the match has ended, your thoughts should turn toward recovery and preparation for the next match. Once again, it is vital to continue to replace lost fluids. It is also important to replace the complex carbohydrates so bread, pasta, brown rice, etc. should be on the menu.

A Post-Match Meal that is high in carbohydrates will allow the player to come back and perform at a high level on successive days." (See chart #3 for a sample Post-Match meal.)

You should never neglect the nutritional aspects of your training for it is nutrition which gives your body the energy to perform the many skills that tennis demands. If a car is given low-quality fuel, it will run poorly, the same is true for the human body.

No matter what your level of play, you can benefit by taking a look at your diet and making adjustments which will enable you to get the most out of what you eat and drink. Many athletes, both professional and recreational, have noticed a tremendous improvement in their performance after re-evaluating their nutrition. Peter Burwash is one such athlete. After thirty years as a "dedicated carnivore," Burwash, who was competing on the pro tour at the time, got serious about his nutrition and noticed the results almost immediately.

"The first three years I competed on the tour I was a meat eater, and the last four I was a vegetarian," recalled Burwash. "So I have been on both sides of the fence and there is no comparison. After becoming a vegetarian Burwash found that his energy level on the court improved dramatically as did his ability to concentrate. "This was back in the days of five set matches," said Burwash, "and I can honestly tell you that, after becoming a vegetarian, I NEVER got tired."

Burwash advocates a vegetarian lifestyle for all individuals and presents a very impressive argument for such in his book, Total Health. It's definitely worth taking a look at.

Whether you decide to become a vegetarian or not, take a good look at the nutritional habits of not only yourself, but your children as well. Good nutrition will benefit not only your performance on the court but on the biggest court-------- the court of life.


Using the recommended percentages for athletes, select foods from the various groups listed below.

                           CARBOHYDRATES 60%
                           FATS          25-30%
                           PROTEIN       10-15%


Whole grains              MONOUNSATURATED       EGG WHITES

Wheat bread                 Avocado             Tuna
Pasta                       Cashews             Turkey Breast
Brown Rice                  Olives              Beans
Oatmeal                     Olive oil           Grains
Potatoes                    Peanuts             Low-fat Yogurt
Wheat pancakes     
                          POLYUNSATURATED       Cottage cheese
Corn                         Almonds   
Fruit                        Corn oil
Vegetables                   Fish


                    SAMPLE PRE-MATCH MEAL     
               *  6 OUNCES OF CRANBERRY JUICE
                  TOMATO SAUCE

 Chart #3          SAMPLE POST-MATCH MEAL                     
                  WHEAT BREAD

               *   PLAIN OR WHEAT BAGEL (OR ENGLISH MUFFIN) WITH            



The United States Professional Tennis Association in its book, THE USPTA SPORT SCIENCE AND SPORTS MEDICINE GUIDE, offers the following advice:

  1. Eat only when hungry or in preparation for an extended caloric effort i.e. a match.

  2. Allow two hours to digest after eating before competition or practice begins.

  3. Pre-hydrate the body before the event with 10-20 ounces of ice-chilled water.

  4. Avoid excess calories from snacks, beverages, and desserts.

  5. Eat three nutritionally balanced, healthy meals per day.


  1. Soda
  2. Jellies
  3. Large Amounts of Caffeine
  4. Gravies
  5. Salt
  6. Candies
  7. White Flour
  8. Tobacco
  9. Junk Foods
  10. Alcohol

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Mortal Tennis/Circle Game Archive

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This column is copyrighted by Greg Moran, all rights reserved.

Greg Moran is the Head Professional at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Connecticut. He is a former ranked junior and college player and certified by both the USPTA and USPTR. Greg has written on a wide variety of tennis-related subjects for numerous newspapers and tennis publications including Tennis, Tennis Match and Court Time magazines. He is also a member of the FILA and WILSON Advisory Staffs.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Greg by using this form.


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