There has been numerous times where I’ve encountered competitive tennis players with this great dilemma. This problem is particularly prominent in players that for one reason or another are trying to to bulk up, loose a couple of pounds, and/or are trying improve their level of play drastically. These players, whether forced by their coaches or not to, will do almost absolutely everything to help them get to the top of their game.
But are they hindering their performance by putting in that “hard” work to reach the top of their sport? Most competitive tennis players are spending two plus hours on the court, on top of an hour of fitness per day, on the average. So do they really need more time in the gym to bulk up, or on the treadmill to shed a couple of pounds?
Here are a couple of key issues that tennis players can achieve these goals without hindering their on-court performance.
PROBLEM #1 TOO MUCH CARDIO
As I’ve mentioned previously, on top of grueling two-hour practices and fitness sessions that may already include cardio, I’ve seen many tennis players also including aerobic cardio on top of their regular training schedules. This may be in the form of going on a steady run for twenty to thirty minutes, in an effort to shed some unwanted pounds and become quicker on the court.
For one, extra cardio does not promote fat loss. In the long term, excessive cardio leads to the loss of lean muscle mass. A power sport, such as tennis, requires muscle mass to perform key movements that include first-step quickness and recovery to get faster to the ball, which would otherwise be hindered with the loss of muscle mass.
If you want to be fast you have to train fast, if you want to be slow you have to train slow.
Aerobic conditioning is not meant to improve speed. Scientists believe that aerobic cardio will in fact turn off the muscle building pathways, thus impairing muscle growth in the future. Since tennis is such a high impact sport, anything added towards training with high impact for a long period of time, such as running for thirty minutes, will leave the athlete susceptible to injuries. If a player must loose a couple of pounds, given that the player continues their on-and-off the court training, the best way is to focus on nutrition. By eating a well-balanced meal, no processed junk food or sugars added to the diet, a player will be able to lose that weight safely and effectively; without hindering their on-court performance.
PROBLEM #2 INSUFFICIENT NUTRIENT INTAKE
This next section is for those tennis players who want to put on extra body weight but can’t seem get the results despite consistent weight lifting and protein intake.
A competitive tennis player’s schedule does not allow them to consume all the calories required to build that extra muscle. The best way is to carry snacks with them and consume it between school, practice and right after practice. Post-workout nutrition, aka the “window”, within thirty minutes after a workout is complete, is the most important time for an athlete to intake their calories. This will promote recovery and prevent catabolic processes.
A pre-made protein shake with whey, or a snack with high quality protein and carbohydrates combined will help promote muscle growth. Also pay close attention to how long you spend on-court including fitness; on average, most practices can take up to three hours and if this is the case pre-workout meals are just as important. Exercises that last 90 minutes or longer will impede protein synthesis and will require a carb supplement, or eating fast digesting carbs, such as sweet potatoes or rice, to help prevent it. Make sure to consume 1.6g per kg, and no more than 2.4g per kg, of body weight of protein per day when focusing on weight gain.
Supplements are very important, along with a well-planned diet plan. BCAA’s & Leucine, when taken together are at the top of my list for athletes looking to simulate muscle growth. Leucine has been known to increase protein synthesis when taken after a weight lifting session. BCAA are important for recovery, increasing tolerance to pain during a workout, and greater muscle growth. Glutamine is also very important, as intense training depletes natural Glutamine in the body. Glutamine aids in boosting the immune system which helps recover quicker after a workout, and contributes to hypertrophy in the muscle. Fish Oils are help to reduce inflammation and soreness after a workout; studies have indicated taking 4 grams of fish oil per day increases protein synthesis by as much as 30%.
PROBLEM #3 HIGH STRESS LEVELS & INSUFFICIENT SLEEP
Do you think that being a competitive tennis player, travelling the world, going to practice, and receiving relaxing massages is stress free lifestyle? Well, think again. Majority of all competitive tennis players are hands down stressed out. The combination and pressure of signing scholarships, maintaining scholarships and sponsorships, on top of achieving good grades, to name of few. It is no wonder that it may be nearly impossible for some players to achieve muscle gains or to shed a couple of pounds.
Cortisol is a hormone in the body that is beneficial; however, it can also be your worst nightmare. Cortisol directly affects fat storage via a specific enzyme that converts inactive cortisone to active cortisol during stressful situations. This enzyme is located in fat tissues; thus, greater amounts of cortisol produced will lead to fat gain and prevention of muscle growth. Meditation is a great way to relax the body and mind and reverse the harmful effects of adipose tissue being stored due to high cortisol levels.
Sleep is the most underrated element that helps enhance performance on the court and allows for muscle growth. If a tennis player has adequate sleep, he or she will have sufficient recovery and get the most out of each training session. When we sleep, the growth hormone is naturally released; this can aid in muscle recovery, regeneration, and stimulated tissue growth.
Prevention of injuries and not overtraining are crucial for competitive tennis players. In all circumstances, there will be a time when a player will want to go above and beyond to achieve their goals; whether it is loosing a couple of pounds, or achieving muscle growth, he or she needs to plan a smart way to reach these goals. Focusing on nutrition rather than adding extra cardio on top of already grueling practices, adding supplements for sufficient recovery and muscle growth, and adopting a healthy lifestyle that can reduce stress and maintaining a schedule of sufficient sleep, will help get the athlete to reach their goals without hindering their on-court performance.