By: Ola Luczak, Accredited Sports Dietitian (and sister of former Australian tennis player Peter Luczak)
EVENT: Australian Open 2013
ON-COURT TEMPERATURE: Don’t ask – ridiculously hot
MATCH DURATION: 4 hours 52 mins
COMPETITORS: Australian James Duckworth v Slovenian Blaz Kavcic
OUTCOME: 5 set epic match, severe body cramps in both players, post-match IV drips and muscle relaxants
REALITY: This is only one of several 4-5 hour battles that we will encounter at this year’s Australian Open
Australia’s James Duckworth knows the important role nutrition plays in performance. Duckworth said he consumed bananas, Coke for caffeine and salt for cramps during the marathon match. “I didn’t weigh myself before or after but I assume I lost a lot (of weight),” he said. “At 3-2 in the fifth my hamstring and quads were locking up. Kavcic walked into the locker room and locked up with full body cramp.”
Hydration is critical in a sport that is typically played in the hot summer months with variable match duration. My experience is that athletes generally hydrate well the day before a tournament and replace on-court fluid losses very well. However, drinking outside of training is often neglected and does not cater for daily fluid requirements.
Cramping in many instances can be prevented. In lead up to major tournaments I will often work with tennis players to improve their daily hydration status. Weighing an athlete before and after training sessions in a quick and easy way to determine hourly sweat losses from which a hydration plan can be prescribed. Fluid diaries can be a great way to increase awareness of fluid intake and implement good drinking habits. In cases where athlete are prone to cramping, sweat patch analyses at the Australian Institute of Sport can help to determine how much sodium is being lost and whether additional electrolytes need to be added to a drink bottle to cater for these losses.
We all know that tennis can be unpredictable. Margaret Court holds the record for the shortest match played in history, winning a professional match in 24 minutes. Some of you may remember the longest recorded match at Wimbledon in 2010 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut lasting 11 hours and 5 minutes. Match times are usually based on court availability and determined by previous match durations – so you will rarely know exactly when your athlete will be stepping out on court. Given the erratic nature of tennis, how do you provide nutritional advice for a tennis player preparing for battle?
Luckily tennis players have to opportunity to fuel and hydrate throughout a match with 90 second change of ends every 2 games and a 2 minutes recovery period between sets. This allows a dietitian to work with an athlete to prepare for any condition and match duration. Fruit, muesli bars, low fat muffins / scones, liquid meal supplements, sports drinks and other carbohydrate based snacks help to fuel athletes where the match duration looks to exceed 60-90 minutes play. Working with junior athletes throws in the additional challenge of multiple matches in a day. It is not uncommon for the junior athlete to enter up to 3-4 different events at any given tournament, this can at times mean 5-6 matches each day. Education around types and timing of food is key for these junior athletes and parents.
PS You may have seen the ‘tweet’ by Kavcic on a hospital bed attached to a drip post match…… confirming the importance of hydration and nutrition during these ‘epic’ matches.
Ola and her brother Peter enjoying some recovery snacks