What Should Tennis Players Eat?

Tennis players, especially adolescents, require good nutrition. Following science based dietary guidelines protects a teenage athlete’s health and supports good growth, development and athletic performance. Lack of adequate care regarding nutrition may result in a higher risk of illness, injury, fatigue, poor growth and development and even loss of interest in the sport. So, what should a tennis player eat?

Teenage tennis players should eat nutrient full foods with calories split with 45-65% coming from carbohydrates, 10-30% from protein and 20-35% from dietary fats. They should eat in sufficient quantities and frequencies to meet the high energy demands of training and competing.

Teenage athletes should avoid restriction of calories or food groups. They should look to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, seafood, eggs, lean protein, whole grains and some dairy. They should also drink unsweetened beverages consistently throughout the day for adequate hydration. 

Continue reading to discover more science based guidelines regarding healthy eating patterns for teenage tennis players. Following these guidelines will help protect and support the athlete’s overall well-being

What is a healthy meal pattern for a tennis player?

A healthy meal pattern for a teenage tennis player will include a variety of food groups and types of foods. Nutritional supplements or a single “super food” will not make up for a restricted diet.

The nutrient and calorie needs will differ per individual player. Active teenagers may need from 2400-3000 calories. In fact, even a single athlete’s needs will change from day to day depending on activity level, hormones, growth, development, the environment, sleep and more.

Instead of trying to eat the same amount and types of food every day, a tennis player should eat according to hunger and fullness cues. They should try to eat many different foods from all the food groups. This mindful and varied eating will meet the nutritional needs far better than following a set of rigid rules.

The following table outlines some basic guidelines a teenage athlete can follow for a healthy eating pattern. However, each teenager should adjust these guidelines to meet their unique needs and preferences. They can always reach out to a registered dietitian if they feel they need more guidance.

For a full nutrition game plan, check out my Nutrition Game Plan for Teen Athletes available for download on my website, which includes a 30-day meal plan.

Servings of Food Based On 2400-3000 Calories1 Cup or 1 oz Serving EquivalentsBenefitsRecommendations
2-2 1/2 C Fruit– 1 cup raw, frozen, cooked, canned fruit – ½ cup dried fruit – 1 cup 100% fruit juicePacked with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals and many other health boosting components. These nutrients help prevent illness and chronic disease. They support a healthy weight, skin, hair, nails, bones, muscles and organs.Eat a variety of colors to get all the different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
3-4 C Vegetables1 cup raw or cooked/canned vegetables – 2 cups leafy salad greens – 1 cup 100% vegetable juiceSee above benefits for fruitEat a variety of colors to get all the different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
8-10 oz Grain– 1 slice bread – 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal – ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cerealGrains provide carbohydrate, B-vitamins, iron and other minerals which are essential to energy for an athlete. Whole grains also contain fiber. Fiber prevents chronic disease, helps regulate blood sugar, increases feelings of fullness and improves digestive health.Choose to make at least half of the grains whole grains. Limit highly processed grains.
6 1/2-7 oz Protein– 1 ounce seafood, lean meat, poultry- 1 egg- 1 Tbsp peanut butter- ¼ cup cooked beans, peas, or lentilsThe building block of the body, protein assists with tissue maintenance and repair, cell communication, hormones, growth, digestion and most body functions. Protein also helps with feelings of fullness, blood sugar regulation and is a great source of iron and zinc.Limit red and processed meats. Choose lean meats and plant based protein foods.
3 C Dairy– 1 cup dairy milk or yogurt; or- 1 cup lactose-free dairy milk or yogurt; or- 1 cup fortified soy milk or yogurt; or- 1½ ounces hard cheeseDairy can play an important role in consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients build strong bones.Those unable to consume dairy can find these bone building nutrients in fortified foods, broccoli, dark leafy greens, beans and almonds.Limit dairy with high amounts of sugar, saturated fat and sodium. Highlight fermented dairy that contain live probiotics.
20-35% of caloriesUnsaturated Fats: Olive oil, canola oil, plant oils, avocado, nuts, nut butters, fatty fish Saturated Fats: Butter, coconut oil, lardFats improve nutrient absorption, taste of food, feelings of fullness, blood sugar control and energy storage. Unsaturated fats such as Omega-3 will improve heart and brain health.Replace foods high in saturated fats with those high in unsaturated fats. Avoid foods with trans fat.
Food Guidelines for Teen Athletes- fuelingteens.com

What about nutrition supplements?

A teenage athlete rarely needs nutrition supplements when eating an overall balanced and inclusive dietary pattern. If athletes feel the need or desire to consume a nutritional supplement, they should seek guidance from a licensed health professional. 

Supplements such as vitamins, minerals, protein powders and performance enhancing supplements are not well regulated. These supplements may cause harm with contaminants or inaccurate descriptions. Furthermore, taking more vitamins or minerals than a body needs can lead to toxicity.

If an athlete decides, under the direction of a healthcare professional, to take a supplement, they should look for third party tested options. These third party testers (NSF, USP, Consumer Lab) determine safety and accuracy of supplements.

What should a tennis player eat before a match? 

The food eaten in the hours before a match can boost energy and performance. However, certain dietary choices can also hinder an athlete’s ability to play well. 

An athlete should strive for good hydration and adequate meals throughout the day. In the 3-4 hours before the match, athletes may want to eat a balanced meal of carbohydrate, moderate protein and a little bit of healthy fat. A snack eaten 1-2 hours before the match should emphasize carbohydrate with some protein.

Some foods eaten too close to game time will cause gut distress or energy crashes. These foods should be limited in the hours proceeding the game, but can still be a part of an overall healthy diet at other times.

Types of foods to limit before a match:

  • High fiber foods
  • High fat foods
  • High sugar foods
  • Foods with sugar alcohols (many sugar free foods)
  • Any other foods that an athlete has found to cause gut discomfort

What should a tennis player eat during a match? 

Most high school matches last under an hour. This short time duration means players should not need to eat food during the match. They also only need water for hydration.

Certain conditions may lead to a higher risk of dehydration. These conditions include excessive sweating, playing for over an hour and extreme weather. At this point, an athlete may benefit from a sports drink to replace fluids and electrolytes.

Players sometimes compete in multiple matches throughout the day. The waiting sessions create great opportunities for refueling and rehydrating.

These snacks between matches will help replenish glycogen or energy stores and should emphasize carbohydrates with some protein. Athletes will want to continue to limit foods high in fiber, fat, sugar and sugar alcohols.

Snack ideas:

  • Trail mix with pretzels/dried fruit
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Peeled fruit and nut butter
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Egg on toast
  • Low fat cheese quesadilla
  • Oatmeal
  • Low sugar cereal
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Chicken sandwich 
  • Homemade air popped popcorn or fat free popcorn

What should a tennis player eat after a match? 

After the last match of the day, tennis players should look to consume a carbohydrate and protein rich snack.  Additionally, athletes should drink fluids as part of the snack in order to help with rehydration. Usually about 2-3 cups water for every pound of fluid lost.

Tennis players should eat this snack within 30-60 minutes after the last performance,  with 120 minutes maximum in order to effectively restore glycogen or energy stores. This snack will also help the body repair, replenish and build for upcoming trainings and matches.

Post-match snacks:

  • Cold cereal with milk
  • Fruit smoothie with yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Nut butter and banana on a bagel
  • Chicken wrap
  • Tuna sandwich
  • Tart cherry juice with crackers and cheese

Later, a balanced meal of carbohydrate, protein and healthy fats will further assist in effective recovery.  This meal may also take the place of the snack if the timing works out well. As with the recovery snack, carbohydrates remain crucial to replenishing energy stores and should never be omitted.

Meal ideas:

  • Lasagna with steamed vegetables
  • Chicken or tofu stir fry with brown rice
  • Bean burrito and sweet potato oven fries
  • Fish with quinoa and roasted vegetables
  • Taco salad with whole grain tortilla
  • Chili with baked potato

These guidelines can help a tennis player make appropriate dietary choices that help fuel training and matches. However, individuals will experience varying preferences and needs and should find what works best for them. 

What are other healthy choices a teenage tennis player can make?


Teenagers should aim to sleep 8-10 hours each night. Quality sleep affects mental, emotional and physical health. Specifically for tennis players, poor sleep will significantly decrease athletic performance and subsequent recovery.

A consistent sleep and wake time will promote quality sleep. Additionally, teenagers may find it helpful to develop a sleep routine, keep the temperature cool, avoid screen time before bed, limit high fat and high sugar foods, and avoid caffeine in the evening.


Some body stress is a normal part of life and helpful for an athlete as it fine tunes the body’s abilities during performance. However, ongoing stress causes chronic inflammation. This inflammation over time increases risk of injury, sickness and development of chronic disease.

If stress feels unmanageable, reach out to a family member or professional. Teen athletes can often manage stress through a variety of techniques. 

  • Quality sleep 
  • Prioritizing tasks 
  • Talking to someone
  • Meditation
  • Enjoying other hobbies
  • Eating well
  • Taking recovery days

Create balance

Just as balance with food makes for the best nutrition, balance in life boosts overall well-being. Teenagers who place heavy emphasis on their sport, to the point of deteriorating physical, social, mental and  academic health, may experience burnout.

This burnout may cause a loss of interest in the sport and other hobbies. It will also decrease performance through increased chance of injury and sickness. If tennis players find themselves feeling constantly tired and disinterested in their sport, an adjustment may be necessary.

Need more Help?

I put together a 50-page e-book and meal plan for teenage athletes. This book contains the answers to all of the questions teen athletes have about nutrition and healthy eating including things like supplements, pre- and post- game nutrition, and specific protein needs on match days and practice days.

It is available at this link, or select “downloads” from the website menu.



Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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