| By Irina Belfer-Lehat

We all know that tennis is a unique sport that requires intense physical activity for a prolonged period of time. Especially with the high school boys tennis season currently in play, it is important to focus on proper nutrition both off and on the court to maximize performance (and of course, wins)! Therefore, preparation for a match must begin days in advance, including proper fueling and hydration.

It’s no secret that most of the professional tennis players on the tour have their own nutritionists working as part of their team. As a registered dietitian for almost 15 years, and a parent of a tennis player and a swimmer, I realize that without a solid nutrition foundation, my daughters cannot achieve peak performance. Some common symptoms young athletes complain of are fatigue, cramps, nausea and dehydration. As parents, we must learn to recognize these symptoms, and look to nutrition to alleviate these symptoms.

Many parents approach me with questions: “What do I feed my child before and after the match?” “How much fluids are appropriate?" “My kid is too skinny, what should I give him or her to bulk up?” or "My child plays all the time, but keeps gaining too much weight.”

Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple and one does not apply to all kids. In fact, nutrition needs are very individualized and must be approached as such. The most common mistake made by parents is to assume that they know how to properly fuel and prep their young athletes, solely from hearing about nutrition fads, popular meal plans, and diets that professional athletes partake in. However, for an athlete, this is not the case as each body is different. For example, although it worked well for Novak Djokovic, a gluten-free diet does not suit all body types.

So what do nutritionists do that parents cannot do at home? First, it is important to assess how many calories from carbohydrates, proteins and fats are needed for an individual's intake. This information requires very specific calculations based on an individual’s age, height, weight and level of activity. Fluid needs must be calculated as well following very specific formulas and calculations. No two kids are alike. Second, a diet plan is designed to meet a specific need. Family style, eating habits and cultural preferences are all taken into consideration. Finally, a registered dietitian will teach and follow up on progress. This is not a quick or easy fix, however, working closely with a dietitian will maximize the results and will catalyze optimum performance  on the court.