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Sports Science & Nutrition

Building Strength Tips for the Teen Tennis Player

Sports Science & Nutrition

By Caroline Sullivan, MS, RD, CSSD, LD Supplements

I would like to say that somewhere in my career as a recreational athlete I needed to gain weight. Unfortunately, I have never had the pleasure…but I know many high school men that have worked night and day to build muscle mass and strength.

Building muscle mass can happen with tennis and cross training…but it cannot happen without a focused nutrition plan. Gaining weight and building muscle can be challenging. Male youth athletes are growing incredibly fast and burning a huge amount of calories exercising.

Supplements can seem like the magic ticket, but they are not. Reach for real food. There are very little checks and balances when it comes to ingredients in supplements. Real food boasts a wide range of health benefits and is completely safe! Use these guidelines to make a conscious effort to increase your nutrition and thus your strength building:

Fish_realfood1. Eat three balanced meals and incorporate 3-4 snacks throughout the day.

Make sure you always have a snack immediately after practice or cross training to reduce any protein loss as your muscles repair.

2. Don’t forget carbs.

Many people think they need protein to bulk up, when in fact carbohydrate is the limiting factor. You must have enough carbohydrates to be able to use dietary protein to build muscle. If your diet lacks carbohydrates, the protein you eat in will be converted to carbohydrate for energy. Tennis players need carbohydrates to fuel their muscles during practice and competition. More than half of your diet should come from whole grain carbohydrates.

3. Incorporate a combination of carbohydrate and protein in your post-practice snack.

Chocolate milk has a great balance of carbohydrate and protein to help with muscle repair. Another option is a tortilla with turkey or a smoothie with banana, yogurt, and peanut butter.

4. Protein supplements are expensive and may not be that helpful.

It is likely that you will be able to get enough protein from your diet. By eating a lean protein with each meal and incorporating a high quality protein (one that comes from an animal) after exercise, you will meet your needs for muscle building.

5. Drink a caloric beverage with meals.

You may hear that we should drink plain water with meals. This is true unless you are trying to gain weight. Adding calories via beverages doesn’t fill you up and can help increase the nutrients in your diet…if you choose the right thing. Avoid sodas, sports drinks (save those for matches), or fruit punches. Reach for low fat milk or 100-percent juice.

It seems odd that gaining weight can be such an effort, but it doesn’t just happen by incorporating a protein shake here and there. The next time you find yourself looking at Rafa’s bicep and wishing yours looked the same, know that he didn’t roll out of bed with it looking like that. It took hard work both on and off the court.


Caroline Sullivan is a Registered Dietitian and specialist in sports dietetics. She has served as a dietitian for several NCAA Division I top-25 teams including work with basketball, football, tennis, and track & field. She is a member of the USTA Texas Sports Science Committee.

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