What do the pros drink between games and sets? What are some recommended alternatives to water?—Steven W.
We’ve all seen pros chugging unidentified, often brightly-colored liquids on changeovers. Since they can be battling on court for several hours, sometimes in hot and humid conditions, they need more than just water to replenish their reserves and maintain performance. Even us mere mortals competing on the recreational circuits can require a bigger boost than Poland Spring to stay hydrated and energized. I’ve got some of my favorite supplements, but perhaps it’s best to turn to an expert.
Dr. Mark Kovacs, PhD, (@mkovacsphd) is a performance physiologist with an extensive background training and researching elite athletes. He is a Certified Tennis Performance Specialist (CTPS) and formerly directed the Strength and Conditioning and Coaching Education departments for the USTA. Over the years he was worked with more than two dozen top professionals including John Isner and Sloane Stephens. I asked him to identify some of the common ingredients in the beverages of the top players, as well as make some suggestions for the everyday player.
Although players consume many different drinks on court, most have certain similarities:
Fluid: Generally water-based and easily potable.
Electrolytes: Typically, a high sodium content beverage. Our major electrolyte lost during sweat is sodium and all good on-court beverages have a high sodium composition.
Carbohydrates: Nearly all players have a drink that includes carbohydrates. Some have quick releasing carbohydrates and some have slow releasing carbs. Depending on needs, some have high dose and some have low dose options. However, the general recommendation is carbohydrates are advised for exercise that is longer than 60-90 minutes. The amount recommended is between 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise.
Caffeine: Many on-court drinks may include some form of caffeine. The research on caffeine has been shown that it is not a diuretic (like once thought) in relatively low/medium doses. If they’ve gone through a caffeine tolerance assessment to know when and how to best dose it, many players will use the stimulant at certain times throughout a match.
Amino Acids: Some players may add some amino acids to the beverage. This will not improve performance but it may have some impact on an athlete’s post-match recovery.
Protein: Some athletes may also include a small amount of protein in the on-court drinks. Most players don’t utilize this strategy as protein does not improve performance in the match situation. However, like amino acids, it can play a role in muscle recovery post-match
Other energy sources: Beetroot Juice and other natural sources have some scientific backing supporting benefits in competitive athletes; however, most alternatives have little research data.
If you’re looking for an over the counter electrolyte based sports drink that many pros use, four very common options are: Gatorade, Powerade, Cytomax, Biosteel, and EFS First Endurance.
For those individuals that prefer a healthy homemade sports drink, this is a recipe I use with many of my athletes:
· 2 cups coconut water.
· 2 cups water (or more, based on how strong you prefer the flavor to be)
· 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon juice works as well)
· ¼-1/2 teaspoon sea salt or real salt.
· 2 tablespoons raw honey (or maple syrup)