Note: For the fifth year in a row, I am serving as Chief Tournament Physician of the Family Circle Cup. Each day of the tournament, I am writing an article for The Post and Courier and Family Circle Cup.

Have you ever wondered what professional tennis players eat? During the week of a tournament, players want every aspect of their games at a high level. Their training, exercise, sleep, and diets all are fine tuned to deliver optimal performance.

Unfortunately, away from home the players depend on the tournaments to provide appropriate food choices. To ensure that players receive foods that deliver enough energy and fluids for successful performance and well being, the WTA Tour sets food service requirements that each tournament must provide for the competing players.

According to the Performance Food Service Guidelines 2011 published by the WTA Tour, each tournament’s food service provider must make food available from one hour before matches begin until one hour after the last match is completed. Preparation should aim to keep the meals low in fat, so baked, roasted, or broiled cooking is recommended. The tour recommends a variety of foods, not only to avoid repetition, but also to offer different international cuisines for the players who come from all around the world. Healthy, prepackaged snacks and beverages, such as water, milk, juices, coffee, and tea should be available throughout the day.

For breakfast, the WTA Tour requires that there be three carbohydrate sources provided (one cereal, one hot cereal, and one bread, like pancakes or bagels), and three protein sources (one egg item, one dairy item, and one meat). For lunch and dinner, the Tour requires three carbohydrate sources (one rice, one potato, and one pasta) and three proteins (one red meat, one white meat or fish, and one meatless option, like tofu or legumes).

For ten years, the Family Circle Cup has used Just Fresh as the food provider for its players. Dana Sinkler, who owns the franchise in Mount Pleasant, discussed his views on the food requirements of the Tour and the players’ opinions.

“The players tell us every year that this tournament has some of the best food on the tour. We do it differently than most. Instead of the cafeteria-style line where the server puts a scoop of whatever food they have on the girls’ plates, we use the buffet method. We provide so many options. The girls like the variety of the salad bar, sandwich bar, potato bar, carving station, and omelet bar. Plus they can eat all the food they want. You wouldn’t believe how much food these girls can eat. I’ve seen them drink entire quarts of orange juice and eat huge bowls of strawberries at once,” Sinkler states.

Stacy Renouf, RD, an MUSC dietitian and sports nutrition consultant for MUSC Sports Medicine, thinks that the dietary requirements for tournaments are a good idea. “These players need a lot of carbohydrates – breads, fruits, juices, milk – during tournament weeks. And due to their baseline metabolic rates, their muscle mass, and the sheer number of calories burned with training and matches, I would say that the girls have probably twice the caloric requirements of average adults,” Renouf says.

While it never occurred to me that food available all day was an important requirement, as I, like most adults, eat on a fairly regular schedule, Renouf says that elite athletes have to be able to adjust their diets and meal schedules to their training and match schedules. “If players have an early morning match, they need to be able to consume a bigger breakfast before the match. If they play later, they have to adjust their meals to eat a smaller snack before playing and eat a larger meal after.”

I’ve been amazed over the years how much food the players will often eat, especially when they are not particularly big athletes, at least compared to those in some sports. But when you watch their power, speed, and endurance on the court, you can understand why their diets are so important.

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Read my daily posts from the 2011 Family Circle Cup!

Day 1: Tennis players among world’s elite athletes
Day 2: Do our clay courts decrease injuries?
Day 4: Best Tennis Town in America
Day 5: Wind hurts more than players’ games
Day 6: Is kinesio taping hype or helpful?
Day 7: The sun can be dangerous for tennis players
Day 8: Athletes must take meds, supplements with caution
Day 9: Medical aspects of professional tennis