- Hydration - Dehydration is one of the main causes of cramping. The majority of athletes walk into a match or practice already dehydrated. During a match an individual can lose between 1.5 to 3 liters of sweat. The main element lost in sweat is salt. An easy test to see how much an individual sweats is to wear a dark colored shirt. Once the practice or match is complete look for white stains around the shirt, as this is a sign of the amount of sodium lost during the practice or match. The more white (salt) the shirt has is the heavier a sweater he/she is. Consuming a sports drink such as Gatorade will help prevent cramping. If he/she does not like a sports drink, adding salt to your water or drink of choice is a good way to substitute the sodium lost during play. Recent research has shown that drinking Alkaline water also helps keep a higher PH level in the body. This allowed for more efficient utilization of lactate after high intensity exercise. Also remember that hydration begins before the match or practice.
- Nutrition – Nutrition plays a big role in an athlete’s performance. Tennis is a high intensity sport with short points (5-20 seconds) and long breaks (20-25 seconds). Carbohydrates are very important for a tennis player. They provide immediate energy during a match. Gel packets and sports drinks are commonly seen being consumed by tennis players because they provide quick energy. Recent research shows that consuming 16g of glucose improved endurance by 14% compared to drinking only water. A suggested consumption of 20-90g of carbohydrates is recommended per hour. This all depends on your ability to digest a gel or sports drink during competition. It is also important to consume enough calories before and after playing. Consuming the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein in your diet is important to have enough energy throughout the practice or match and prevent cramps.
- Physical Preparation – The final piece to the puzzle is fitness. For most professional athletes this is not a problem, but for recreational players it can be. Most recreational players participate in a league or play with friends once or twice a week. The problem is that if they don’t do any work in the gym or supplemental fitness when they aren’t playing tennis they run the risk of cramping during longer matches. Tennis is a high intensity sport. Combined with the pressure of winning and possible hot and humid conditions there is a high risk of cramping no matter the level of he or she competes in. He or she should try and exercise 2-3 times a week outside of a practice or match in order to improve their fitness levels. This will help prevent cramps muscle fatigue which can lead to cramping.
- Emotional & Mental Preparation – Most cramping occurrences happen during matches and competitive environments. Therefore, it is very important to not overlook the stress response and the impact it has on muscle function and physiological responses that contribute to the exercise associated muscle cramping timeline and mechanical process. Working on breathing routines, focusing on the process rather than the outcome and having overall general routines is very beneficial in this perspective. Here is a great resource that has many lesson plans and practical examples on how to improve the emotional and mental skill development https://www.amazon.com/USTA-Mental-Skills-Drills-Handbook/dp/1606790803
Here is another great resource from the iTPA on Cramping in Tennis:
Cramping in Elite Level Tennis - http://itpa-tennis.org/itpa-blog/cramping-in-elite-level-tennis
Calambres musculares en el tenis http://itpa-tennis.org/itpa-blog/muscle-cramping-in-tennis-espanol