He's known for noshing on grass (really), but while his odd habit might have helped Novak Djokovic defend his title at Wimbledon this year, when he was chasing his win at the U.S Open this past weekend, the tennis star picked a more palatable snack: dates.
Pausing for a snack in the middle of a game sounds more like varsity than professional sports, but refueling in the midst of a grueling match, game, or competition can be key to the success of athletes at any age.
Especially in sports like tennis that require players to use strength and power to hit the ball, maintain endurance through many sets of play, and stay quick and agile as they sprint to hit their target, competitors need to maintain a certain level of nutrition to keep their bodies performing optimally.
Got a tough game of doubles coming up? Check out of some of the best mid-workout snacks that will keep bodies fueled and happy even during the most epic competitions.
The snack of choice for Djokovic is actually a pretty smart choice. They may not look the most appetizing—brown, wrinkly, sticky—but for what they lack in beauty they make up for in nutrition. Relatively high in naturally occurring sugar and carbohydrates that provide quick energy to glycogen depleted muscles, dates also contain fiber to help with healthy digestion.
But dates also contain protein, where research has found 23 different amino acids that are integral to helping athletes recover quickly. Amino acids have long been used as a supplement for endurance athletes, assisting their muscle function, fatigue, and recovery; along with endurance-boosting amino acids, dates are also loaded with vitamin C, vitamin B1 and B2, and vitamin A. Maybe Federer will take a page out of Djokovic's book and reach for this super fruit instead of the Gatorade next match.
According to Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., athletes need to gobble down 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate each hour that they are exercising longer than 75 minutes. It can sound like a lot—after all, most of us exercise to lose weight and burn calories. Does eating while working out mean that you're essentially just negating all the hard work you've done? Not to worry! If you're running a long distance, playing a few matches, or even participating in a pick-up soccer game, a 100- to 200-calorie snack every hour won't deter weight loss.
No time to stop, or wanna keep running through your refuel? Lots of runners and athletes love gels or energy blocks because they're easy to chew and digest quickly. Try one with more natural ingredients like honey, which is anti-inflammatory and helps the body rehydrate more effectively.
Staying hydrated is just as important as refueling with calories—dehydration can be catastrophic for athletes, resulting in super-high heart rates and cramping in the short term and potential heart damage in the long term.
Kill two birds with one stone by drinking coconut water; not only does the sweet drink have carbs and sugar, but it's also full of the five most important electrolytes (calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous) that your body needs for optimal hydration.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont