There is no secret that nutrition is one of the main factors influencing the athlete's performance during the competition. But, as different countries have different food culture, very often, when going to play the tournament in the new place, we are not sure of what to expect. Although it’s obvious that in this case our physical shape depends a lot on how fast we are able to adapt to the local food and find our way to healthy diet.
So, let’s start by answering the question what is the good healthy food for the tennis player? Of course it’s a very individual matter, everybody has his own “good” and “bad” habits. But in general if you are not following any special diet (for example, gluten-free diet, which became very popular within the last couple of years), then it would be mostly products containing not so much fat, with many complex carbs before the match and a combination of carbs and proteins for the after-match meal. Athletes should also look to have a lot of fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins, less heavy and oily sauces, avoid having too much of red meat and sweet soda drinks. The list is long and can go on and on, this is a topic for the whole new article. Today I would like to talk about what to expect when traveling to the different parts of the world, where to go for a good meal and how to make sure you get the right nutrition to be in the best shape for the competition.
Honestly speaking, in Ukraine we are very spoiled by real fruits and vegetables with rich natural taste. It is a little different from what you see in Western Europe. I remember being in Munich for the tournament. We stayed at the family hotel. There was a plate with small apples on the little table by the reception. They were not very pretty, of average shape and sometimes with a worm-hole in it. Just an average kind of garden apples you find at a city market. So next to that plate there was a sign saying “Organic apples”. The normal, non-organic ones would be perfectly round, greasy and shiny like a new coin and would have no specific smell or taste of a fruit. Maybe you could use it as a mirror.
But in general Germany is easy to find your way with the food. That is because there quite a few foreigners living there. Mostly these would be Russian-speaking people as well as former-Yugoslavians, Turkish and, as strange as it may be, many Italians. The latter ones usually open the nice little restaurants, where tennis player can always find their favorite pasta, salad with grilled chicken or any other simple entrée they like. In most cases Italian cuisine is a safe choice when you don’t really know what to eat. This is not only for Germany, but for any place where you are coming for the first time and choosing where to have a dinner.
Coming back to the fruits and vegetables I’d say that for the best ones you should go more south. If you are playing the tournament in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Portugal or Bulgaria, it’s time to run to the market for your portion of vitamins and some good mood therapy. But even if you are not a big fan of fruits, the Mediterranean cuisine is an all-time favorite. So you should not have any trouble with food in those countries. Just be careful not to eat too much of a heavy sauce.
Although France is known as gastronomic paradise, it may be not so easy to find a good lunch before your match. Traditional French cuisine is quite heavy, their salads tend to have a lot of mayonnaise in it. In the middle of the day most of the French people would eat a baguette sandwich with ham and cheese in it. Of course there are many good restaurants where you can have a great dinner but if you are in the small town looking for the meal before you go on court there might be a problem. I would suggest to make a stop at the supermarket and get some simple things you are familiar with just in case you have a emergency situation. They usually have the restaurant onsite where the tournament is held but from my own experience I would not guarantee you’ll eat there.
Eastern-European countries are geographically close to Ukraine and you can see it in the food traditions. You will not have any tough time to find a meal here because most of the names on the restaurant menu are close to the Ukrainian ones. Besides that there are many Russian-speaking people in Czech republic, Slovakia, Poland and Bulgaria so you can find that many things in their stores would be just the same as in ours.
Turkey is a country with very deep food traditions. When you come to compete in Antalya, Istanbul or Ankara, you don't need to worry about being hungry. Great amount of cafes and restaurants offer meals for all kinds of tastes. For athletes I would recommend to change the traditional pasta for rice, which in Turkey they cook in the broth. I have never eaten better rice in my life. The fans of nuts and dried fruits will enjoy great variety offered by the local street shops situated literally on every corner. And of course the biggest temptation is the choice of Turkish deserts. Sweet-lovers, prepare to have a hard time! Stay strong!
If you plan to go to play tournaments in Asia be prepared to have hard time finding places to eat. From my own experience I can tell that we our body is not used to their type of cuisine. Many traditions of this region are very different from what we are used to see every day, and cooking is not an exception. You would tell me that you have eaten in many Asian restaurants and loved it. Believe me, Chinese food in China and Chinese food everywhere else are two different things. What we see in Ukraine, Europe or USA is the so-called adapted version. When ordering food in Asia you should remember that in most places waiters barely speak English (unless you eat in the fancy restaurant) and the images on the menu do not always correspond to what they actually supposed to mean. I’d say that the best thing if you go out for a dinner in China is to have a Chinese friend coming with you. This is a safer option.
You should pay extra attention to where and what you eat if you are in India. The thing is that in this country they have a little different standard when it comes to cleanliness. Also the water is different and of course it affects all the food. If you are participating in ATP or WTA tournaments, you should not be worried too much because the organization level at these events is very high. Usually the official hotel provides all the catering during the competition and you will also find some European meals on the table, including pasta and even normal bread. But if you are going to India to play some junior tournaments or challengers, please pay extra attention to your nutrition. I would suggest eating only cooked food and avoid eating fruits and vegetables without pealing off the skin. Only drink the water from the closed bottles. And if you plan to try the local specialty, maybe you should wait until the tournament is over.
You want to be just as careful at the tournaments held in Uzbekistan. Unfortunately events taking place in this country are famous for a big number of food poisonings among the participants. There is couple of reasons for that. On one hand it’s very hot there during the summer so food can get bad very quickly. On the other hand just like in India water is different in Uzbekistan. But I think the main factor is that traditionally many dishes are prepared with a lot of fat, so many people just have a hard time to digest. My good friend from Tashkent gave me a little tip. She said that locals usually drink hot tea during and after each meal. They say that tea helps the stomach to deal with heavy food and neutralizes the fat. I don’t know if there is any scientific explanation for that but it definitely works.
US are the country of opportunities. There is no doubt about that, although this statement does not always work when talking about food. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of choices out there, but unfortunately quality depends a lot on the price. I think many people, who used to live on this continent or at least visited US couple of times, will agree with that. Lately there are many talks about the fact that many manufacturers add some ingredients to the food so it tastes better and looks prettier. There is another strong discussion about the GMO used in the products and the labeling used by different companies to provide the customers with the information whether the product contains GMO’s. This is partly the reason why many people living in the United States prefer to buy only organic food. It costs more money and is a little more difficult to find. I understand that when you arrive to the new place and have to quickly check in to the hotel, get some rest and go to practice, it’s not always easy to make an extra research for the “healthy” restaurant or a Whole Foods (USA supermarket where they sell only organic products). But for the professional athlete it’s extremely important to pay attention to what kind of food you eat so I would recommend spending extra money and time and getting a healthy meal. It’s unbelievable how big is the effect of what we eat, to our body. Already after couple of days of not getting the proper nutrition you will feel the lack of energy, fatigue, not to mention one-two kilos of extra weight. And actually it’s exactly the same for those, who don’t do professional sport. You will always feel depending on what fuel do you put in your body.
In general, if you are eating out, the rule is, the cheaper is the food, the less natural it is. Once at the restaurant one of my friends asked for some honey. They brought him a nice little bottle of something and on the label the word “honey” was on the fourth place among the other ingredients. Since then I always read what is written with the small letters under the star sign.
When I was sixteen years old I went to Australia for the first time. That was when I have tried the sushi and fell in love with it. Now I know that there are many Asian people in this country and you will find any kind of Asian cuisine you want. Most likely it will be the adapted version I was talking about a little earlier. So if you like Chinese, Japanese or Korean food, don't hesitate to look for it here. In general in Australia you may find any kind of food from all over the world. This place is so international that you will definitely please your taste. In one of my last articles I wrote about Lygon street in Melbourne. If you like pasta and pizza, this is your place!
Many fruits and vegetables are imported to Australia from New Zealand. Most of the people on the Green Continent say that they are of a very good quality. They are probably right but my Ukrainian childhood still reminds me on those apricots and cherries that I used to eat from the tree. Nothing can beat that natural taste.
In any case, no matter where you are going, try not to experiment too much during the first two-three days after arrival. This time is necessary for your body to get used to the new micro flora and environment. Drink more water and choose simple foods, something you are used to. You will have plenty of time to try the new delicacies after the tournament. Enjoy your meal!