Travel Like A Pro and Score A Winning Advantage

car-roadtrip-red2-945x563The following was written by Registered Dietician, Jeff Rothschild, for his website and is reprinted here with his permission. If you missed my radio show with Jeff, you definitely need to check out the podcast on the ParentingAces YouTube channel!

Most people are familiar with the term home field advantage, but how many have ever stopped to think about just what that means? It goes far beyond playing in the comfort of your own field or court, and includes eating home cooked food, waking up in your own bed, and having the clock in your body match the clock on the wall.

Competing in different cities is a part of day-to-day life for many athletes. Instead of watching your game/race/match performance decline when traveling, take advantage of the less than ideal circumstances to gain an advantage against your opponents!

This post is the first in a series that will examine different aspects of life on the road for a traveling athlete including making good food choices, acclimating to a different climate, jet lag and airplane travel, and keeping your body healthy.

Making good food choices can be difficult when traveling, and a little planning can go a long way.

Before you go

Whether you’ll be traveling by car, train, or plane, you can plan ahead so you’re not stuck eating fast food. Things to pack:

  • Water (unless you’re traveling by plane)
  • Sandwiches
  • Bananas/apples/oranges
  • Bars (my two current favorites are Larabar and Oatmega)
  • Jerky (Trader Joe’s has a nice variety)
  • For plane flights when bringing fresh food isn’t an option, individual packs of whey protein plus a bar can make a nice meal

In addition to packing for your travel day, don’t forget to pack the food-related items you’ll need in the new city, like sports drinks/gels, vitamins, and other supplements.

 In the new city

Finding a grocery store is usually near the top of my priority list. Most stores have a deli counter where you can get food that is ready to eat, including hot items and sandwiches. This can be very convenient for a traveling tennis team, and is usually much cheaper than eating at a restuarant. Assuming the hotel room has a fridge, you can also stock up on some essentials. This can vary widely depending on your preferences, but my suggestions usually include….

  • Water
  • Bread, peanut butter, jelly
  • Deli turkey
  • Avocados (good for adding some calories to the hotel breakfast)
  • Bananas and dates (good for on-court or off-court snacks)
  • Smoked salmon
  • Bars
  • Milk/ chocolate milk (remember chocolate milk is one of the best recovery foods after a hard workout)
  • Potato chips (because they’re delicious)

After finding the grocery store, I would also find out where the nearest Chipotle and Subway shops are. These are both places that can provide a fairly healthy meal for the traveling athlete, though they can also provide quite unhealthy meals depending on how you order. Let’s take a quick look at a few options:

Chipotle – This is usually my first choice for athletes. While people often scoff at it and think of it as unhealthy fast food, I don’t really see much wrong with ordering a bowl with chicken, rice, black beans, veggies, salsa, and guacamole. As you see, something like that can provide a good source of carbohydrate and protein, as well as healthy fats from the avocado.

However, let’s say you were to order a burrito with sofritas, rice, pinto beans, salsa, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole. And while you’re at it, why not have some chips and guacamole, along with a 20 oz. soda. The same amount of protein, with 3x the fat, 3x the calories, and 16x the sugar!

Chipotle label

Subway is another popular option for traveling athletes, and again there are good choices and not so good choices.

Subway label

The differences become even more obvious when you compare them all….

fast food table

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas to step up your travel game on the food side of things. In the next post I’ll discuss the impact that going from a colder to a hotter climate can have on athletic performance, and ways to mitigate the detrimental effects.

What strategies do you use when traveling? Any favorite food I left off the list? Add a comment here or on Facebook! And to stay updated on new posts, leave your email address. I won’t bombard you with emails, just a brief note when a new post comes out.

Nutrition, High-Tech Style

My son’s fitness trainer had a little chat with him last week about his nutritional needs and how best to meet them.  My son is growing taller but is still lacking in the “cushioning” category – i.e. he’s all lean body mass with very few physical reserves or extra fat on his frame.  His tennis coach (and his mother!) thinks he needs to bulk up a bit in order to have enough stamina to withstand the physical demands of competing in the Boys 18s.

The trainer told him, based on his height and weight, he needs to be consuming 115 grams of protein EVERY DAY.  Since neither he nor I had any idea how that translated to real-world eating, we turned to the Apple iTunes Store, figuring there HAD to be an app for that.

We found a free app called Calorie Counter that does everything my son needs – he enters all meal and snack items with amounts eaten, and the app tracks and totals his fat, carbohydrate, protein, and calorie intake for the day.  It even has foods listed by popular restaurants’ menu names (including Panera and Olive Garden – do the rest of you eat there as much as we do???) which makes tracking easier when we’re traveling for a tournament.  He can also add his physical activity for each day so he gets a calories-in-calories-out summary.  Then, he can email the data to his trainer for accountability purposes.

The really cool thing is that now my son can see, in black and white, which food choices help him reach his 115-grams-per-day protein goal more quickly and which slow him down.  For example, this morning he ate 2 pieces of French Toast with peanut butter and maple syrup before heading off to school for a total of 19.2 grams of protein.  Compare that to yesterday’s breakfast of a toasted bagel with cream cheese, lox, and onions with a glass of orange juice for a total of 33.24 grams of protein.  Both were filling but the bagel breakfast got him way closer to his daily protein intake goal.

I figure my kid isn’t the only one who needs a little help nutrition-wise.  And, anything he can do on his iPhone is more likely to GET done, if you know what I mean.  If you’ve found any other nutrition or fitness apps you’d like to share, please add them in the Comments box below.  Happy tracking!

If You Can’t Stand the Heat . . .

For the past several days, the outside temperature has moved into triple digits here in Atlanta, so I figured I’d write a little about how to help our junior players stay healthy in the extreme heat.

What is heat-induced cramping?  According to Dr. Scott Riewald, USTA’s Administrator of Sport Science, heat cramps come from dehydration and electrolyte loss that result from sweating.  There are other factors (e.g. anxiety, psychological stresses) that can contribute to heat cramps as well.  The end result is there is a change in the way the nerves communicate with the muscles – the nerves send inappropriate electrical signals to the muscles that cause them to contract or spasm.  The cramps often begin as subtle “twitches” in one or more voluntary muscles and, unless treated quickly, can rapidly progress to widespread debilitating muscle spasms that leave the afflicted player on the court writhing in pain.  If you’ve never experienced this type of cramping yourself or never seen your child go through it, let me just say it’s frightening.  It can cause even the toughest player to scream out in agony.  And, just when one muscle cramp subsides, another can burst onto the scene in a completely different area of the body.

It goes without saying that being fit and well-hydrated are the first steps in preventing heat exhaustion and heat-induced cramping.  But, oftentimes, drinking plain water isn’t sufficient.  According to several scientific articles I’ve read, the real culprit behind cramping is sodium loss, and the only way to prevent it is to take in more sodium than you sweat out.

One case study from March 1996 looked at a 17-year-old, nationally ranked, male tennis player who had been suffering from heat cramps during match play. His medical history and previous physical exams were normal, and his blood work showed normal levels of all minerals and nutrients.  On-court evaluation and an analysis of a 3-day food journal showed that his sweat rate was extensive and that his potential daily on-court sweat sodium losses could easily overtake his average daily intake of sodium. The combined effects of excessive and repeated fluid and sodium losses predisposed him to heat cramps during his matches.  The good news is that he was ultimately able to eliminate heat cramps during competition and training by increasing his daily dietary intake of sodium.

Another study from 2003 shows that “although a variety of other mineral deficiencies and physiological conditions are purported to cause muscle cramps, evidence suggests that, when a tennis player cramps in warm to hot weather, extensive and repeated sweating during the current and previous matches and a consequent sodium deficit are usually the primary contributing factors.”

Contrary to popular belief (even by the pros), bananas are NOT the cure for cramping.  Yes, bananas are high in potassium, but they are not high in sodium which is the mineral responsible for keeping heat cramps at bay.  Therefore, sports nutritionists agree that taking a salty snack – such as pretzels – on court to eat IN MODERATION during changeovers is a great preventive tactic.

Also, drinking a sports beverage high in sodium and other electrolytes – such as Gatorade, PowerAde, or Pedialyte – can help replenish sodium as it’s sweated out of the body.  The key is to drink enough fluids (minimum 2 ounces every 15 minutes during practices and/or at changeovers) to prevent excessive salt and fluid loss.  The best way to gauge fluid intake and loss is to weigh yourself immediately before stepping foot on the court then again immediately after play – any change in weight will be due to fluid loss and should be replenished immediately at the rate of 16 ounces of fluids for each pound lost.

According to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, the prevention and the cure for heat cramps is salt plus fluids.  Please note that Pedialyte contains almost twice the amount of sodium as Gatorade which contains almost twice the amount of sodium as PowerAde, so to increase the sodium content of either Gatorade or PowerAde, just add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of regular table salt per 8 ounces to ensure adequate sodium intake.

If your child has taken the proper precautions and still cramps either during or after a match, move him to a cooler environment and get him to drink at least 8 ounces of a high-sodium sports beverage right away.  Usually heat-related cramps go away on their own once the athlete has cooled down and taken in enough fluids and salt.  But, if the cramps become worse or if your child begins vomiting or develops dizziness and shortness of breath, get him immediate medical treatment.

If you or your child have ever experience cramping, please share your experience and the steps you’ve taken to prevent a recurrence in the Comments box below.

How To Find A Qualified Fitness Trainer

Today’s article was contributed by our friends at the International Tennis Performance AssociationResearch continues to support the need for outside fitness training for athletes, especially those who are specializing in one sport and one sport only.  While there is an on-going debate regarding the “right” age to start training, the consensus is that junior athletes need to do work in the gym each week in order to keep their growing bodies in balance.  When you have time, be sure to look at ITPA’s website, blog, and Facebook page for more information regarding tennis-specific certifications for fitness trainers and coaches looking to have a better understanding of all the physical aspects of tennis.  

Finding certified, competent, qualified fitness trainers to work with your tennis-playing child is one of the most important decisions you will make as a tennis parent. Finding the right fitness trainer (also called a tennis performance specialist) could be the difference between the success or failure of your child as he or she develops through the tournament tennis journey. These individuals may have a background as a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, athletic trainer or physical trainer, but the most important component that they need to have is an understanding of the sport of tennis and also an understanding of growth and development issues as children progress through pre-puberty, during puberty and post-puberty.

When interviewing potential tennis performance specialists, it is important to take into account the following major areas:

Work Experience And Area Of Specialization

Ask how many years of experience the individual has working with athletes, but specifically working with tennis athletes. There are many great professionals who do not have tennis experience, but with the right education could become great tennis performance specialists because they have a strong background training athletes in other sports. Do they have experience working with young athletes at different stages of puberty?  Do they have appropriate certifications? In the fitness industry, many certifications exist. Some are very good, while others are very limited. In general the base certifications include the following major organizations (in no specific order):

National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

International Fitness Professional Association (IFPA)

National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

All these organizations have different goals and objectives in their certification programs. The NSCA is aimed at certifying individuals who will predominantly train athletes. ACSM is an organization focused on education and training for individuals who will be working with the general population and major or minor chronic diseases. The other organizations fall along a spectrum between these two industry leading associations.

Although all these organizations provide a good base certification for a personal trainer, they do not go into the specifics needed to train tennis athletes. The International Tennis Performance Association (ITPA) has the only internationally-recognized tennis-specific performance enhancement and injury prevention certification. The educational program involves a tennis-focused curriculum which assesses an individual’s knowledge in 20 tennis-specific competencies framed in three broad areas:

1)       Tennis-specific performance enhancement

2)       Tennis-specific injury prevention

3)       Tennis-specific leadership/communication


While a base fitness certification from one of the organizations listed above is vital, it is also important to look for an individual with a college degree in exercise science (kinesiology) or a related field. A master’s degree is definitely a bonus. This lets you know that your future hire has a solid educational foundation in exercise program design.

Ask For References

Ask the individual for names, phone numbers and even testimonials of other clients he/she has worked with, particularly those who share similar traits and goals. If available, call previous clients to see if they were satisfied with their training experience and results. Inquire whether the individual was professional, punctual and prepared, and performed a very high level of service.

Talk To The Tennis Performance Specialist

Developing a personal, yet professional relationship with your tennis performance specialist is very important. Trust your instincts. Ask yourself if you think you could get along well with the trainer personality wise, but also from a philosophy and training standpoint. It is important that the communication between the tennis performance specialist and the tennis parent is outstanding. The physical training of a tennis player is not an isolated occurrence. The work that occurs during training sessions carries over onto the court and seamless integration among the parent, coach and tennis performance specialist is paramount to success.


Hiring a competent tennis performance specialist to work on all aspects of physical training for your tennis playing child (or children) is important and requires an appropriate vetting process. Spending time making sure that the person has the right background to work with young tennis players is a very important decision and hopefully this article has provided some simple tips to help you make a great choice when deciding on your tennis performance specialist.

A Matter of Fitness


If you don’t want to know the outcome of the Djokovic-Murray semifinal match, stop reading now!

I watched that match with great interest, especially as it moved into the 5th set.  Both players were looking a bit fatigued, and it was obvious that this match was going to come down to who was the most fit – both physically and mentally.  While Djokovic has traditionally been plagued with physical ailments which caused him to either retire matches or lose them outright, Murray has been plagued with fatigue of the mental sort but has always been a beast physically.  Today was different.  Murray seemed to lose his legs early in the final set, struggling to stay in points long enough to do damage to his opponent.  Somehow, he found a last burst of energy to come back from a 2-5 deficit, but, eventually, Djokovic had a little more in the tank and was able to close out the match 7-5 in the 5th.

Why is this important to note?  Because our junior players are no longer being pushed to their physical limits in tournament play.  Many tournaments, even those at the highest national level, have gone to playing a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a 3rd set and to playing short sets in the case of weather delays.  When our American kids are across the net from their European or South American or Asian counterparts, are they going to be able to withstand the physical – and mental – pressure of playing for three full sets?

And, it’s not just the length of the match that is in question – it’s also the style of play our kids are being taught.  As Greek coach Chris Karageorgiades told me,  “The game in Europe is more physical because their philosophy is different. In the US it has traditionally been about developing players with big weapons (namely serve and forehand). This is changing in order for players to better prepare for what has become a more physical game which is played from the back of the court.  Whether this is a good or bad decision for the future of American tennis remains to be seen.”   If you watched any of the Djokovic-Murray match, you saw some incredible points that involved 20+ shots moving the ball side-to-side and front-to-back.  To stay in that type of point – over and over again for an entire match – takes incredible leg strength, stamina, and fitness.  I’m concerned that our American juniors are not being adequately prepared for this type of protracted battle.

Two-time Australian Open Champion and current junior coach Johan Kriek shared with me the following:  “May I say, that growing up in S[outh] A[frica] on a farm with no TV, no X-box, no video games was a huge plus in my future physical make-up…today’s kids are digital…they need to be pushed, and push I do …the good ones will excel, the wimps will bail!”  Johan puts his players through fitness training every day:  the older kids working out in the gym, the younger ones working with resistance bands.  His biggest worry is that mediocrity is being accepted as normal, which he views as a societal ill that he just doesn’t tolerate with his players.

I know there’s been a lot of talk on the part of USTA about having the junior players train and compete more on clay, taking a page out of the Spanish book.  But, I’ve also heard that our American green clay is very different from the red dirt and that it doesn’t provide for the same type of movement and long points as the red stuff.  If that’s the case, are we wasting our time?  What can we do better?

Johan goes on to say that “Murray and Djokovic are fit, but that does not mean that the mind fatigues as well, and that has equal input in the body not functioning, the two are hugely connected. If you believe you can win ,the mind will push the body beyond human capacities, we see that in tennis and people that had to use enormous courage to survive near death etc, it is not the body that controls the mind, it is the mind that controls the body.  That is what separates the good players from the awesome players, not the strokes, they are all great! But the ‘head’.”

This is not only about being competitive on the professional level because, let’s face it, most of our kids aren’t on that path.  It’s also about positioning our kids to be competitive when it comes to playing college tennis.  They are up against foreign players again and again for scholarships and spots on college teams.  If they don’t have the physical and/or mental fitness skills to fight through long points and matches, how are they going to convince college coaches to give them one of a very few coveted spots on the team?


If you think good nutrition doesn’t play a major factor in success on the tennis court, think again!

I have spent this weekend at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff tournament where 8 American men and 8 American women competed for a spot in the main draw of  next month’s Australian Open.  In the first round of the tourney, after winning the first set then losing the second in a heart-breaking tie-breaker, Jack Sock found himself up a break in the 3rd set against long-time rival Dennis Kudla.  Instead of closing out the match, earning himself a spot in the semifinals the next day, Jack had to retire because of cramping.

Cramping?  Indoors?  In December?

First of all, Jack Sock is 19 years old and looks to be in great physical condition.  He’s a big boy – 6’1″ and 180 lbs according to the ATP website – and hits a big ball and moves well around the court.  Cramping?  Really?

I later found out from the medical trainer working the tournament that the reason for Jack’s cramping was not due to heat (duh since we were indoors) but rather due to dehydration.  You would think that players (and those who work with them) at this level would know and understand the need to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after their matches, right?  Well, apparently, that’s not always the case.

Jack had flown into Atlanta on Wednesday – a dehydrating experience as anyone who has flown on a commercial plane knows.  On top of that, he was taking cold medication, which can also cause dehydration.  If you read the package of any over-the-counter decongestant or antihistamine, you will see that you are directed to drink plenty of fluids when taking this type of drug.

Jack’s retirement due to cramping was totally preventable.  He lost an incredible opportunity to win this tournament and have a chance to play in the main draw of another Major event (remember, he played in the main draw of the US Open this year as the winner of the Boys 18 Nationals and won the 2011 US Open Mixed Doubles title with Melanie Oudin).  In 2010, Jack lost the Aussie Open playoff final to Ryan Harrison, so this was a chance for redemption.

It was sad to see one of our young American hopefuls squander this great chance to try his hand on a major stage.  We need to make sure our players know and understand the need to fuel their bodies – their MACHINES – properly in order to maximize their potential.  There are tons of nutrition experts out there.  There are numerous nutrition websites and articles out there.  There is NO EXCUSE for not educating yourself and your child about what, how much, and when to eat and drink, especially before a major tournament or competition.