FEEDING THE ATHLETE: Energy Sources for Table Tennis Players
Article by Owen Kelly - First published TTIreland July 2003
The level of fitness of Irish Junior Table Tennis players is
often remarked upon, unfortunately most of the comments are on the lack of
fitness especially when compared to what is observed from travelling abroad. I
suspect that table tennis is not the only sport in Ireland to suffer from this,
but table tennis has never succeeded in promoting the image of a sport that
requires a high level of fitness. The image of table tennis is a subject in
itself and I suspect that it is even more apparent in Ireland.
However this is not an attempt to address those issues, this article is about an
even more untouched upon issue, that of nutrition. Nutrition is about what we
use to fuel our bodies and when this comes to addressing the physical needs and
stresses of the athlete it is a crucial element to sustaining and improving
In order to highlight the importance of correct nutrition I ask players to fill
in a diet sheet for four days (Friday-Monday) over the period of a tournament as
well as a "free" weekend. The results would indicate that in general the diet of
most juniors would not be that balanced, even though there has been some
improvement in this area over the last 10 years. In my experience nutrition is
not completely ignored. wandering around the tournaments you often see players
eating bananas and drinking their sports drinks. Is this the best way to prepare
and sustain their performance at a tournament? Lets have a little closer look on
what foods do what, when to eat them and why.
To function optimally, the body requires a large range of different nutrients.
The aim of a good, healthy diet is to provide the body with these nutrients and
fuel it so that vital functions and systems such as energy production and the
immune system can perform their roles under any circumstances. A Formula 1 car
does not use the same fuel as a tractor or aeroplane, in the same way the fuel
requirements of a table tennis player are not the same as those of a marathon
runner or a couch potato!
It probably wouldn't make sense to set up a specific diet in order to play a
couple of games of table tennis down the local youth club. But if you are
looking to compete at the highest level in Ireland, then you should seriously
consider taking some time to assess the value of your current diet.
Most kids have heard of Carbohydrates one of the major sources of energy for the
body but do you know there are different types of carbohydrate?
These are made up of molecules of sugar and in most cases are sweet to taste.
These sugars can come from fruit and some vegetables (sugar cane and sugar
beet). Biscuits, cakes and most fizzy drinks contain sucrose. These are simple
carbohydrates and can give you a quick burst of energy. They are often referred
to as high glycemic foods. There has been much discussion about the comparative
benefits of fructose (fruit based sugars) over glucose and sucrose as fructose
is slower to absorb and less likely to produce the "roller coaster" effect of
other sugars. Fruit juice can help the liver produce glycogen to get the brain
going first thing in the morning.
As the name implies these have a more complicated structure and take longer for
the body to break down. That is why you don't get the same burst of energy as
you would from the simple carbohydrates but a longer more sustained level of
energy production. Starch is one of the main sources for these carbohydrates.
When starch is eaten, it is digested slowly in the body, releasing glucose
molecules at a slow steady rate. This type of carbohydrate is found in grains,
roots, vegetables, pasta, bread and legumes. Complex carbohydrates provide a
slow release of glucose to the bloodstream and a supply of nutritional energy
that spares and replenishes muscle glycogen. Carbohydrates are more quickly
released from the stomach than either protein or fat. The more protein and fat
you eat, the longer your stomach will take to empty.
Logically you should eat and drink foods that are very high in carbohydrates
before and during exercise to take advantage of this process.
In the human body glycogen is found in all cells. However it is found in greater
percentages in muscle fibre and in the liver. The liver's glycogen supply is
used to regulate the blood sugar level. This glycogen is the major source of
energy for the brain. As you get physically tired your body movement slows down
and the player and the coach can observe this. However when the brain gets tired
it is not as easy for the player to notice, their reaction speed and tactical
decision making can suffer quiet badly without the player understanding the
cause for their poor performance.
The brain can use over 400 calories per day of glucose from the liver's
glycogen. Eating a good amount of complex carbohydrates especially at night will
replenish the glycogen supply and restore mental alertness and physical energy.
At this point however the tournament may have finished and the player is unable
to change the results of their performance during the day.
It is crucial to ones performance to maintain these levels of glycogen and not
wait for them to drop. Glycogen is not stored by itself in the liver, every
ounce of glycogen requires 3 ounces of water, this means that when the glycogen
is used that water is also used and it is important that this level of water is
maintained, this is another reason for players to keep their level of hydration
topped up throughout the tournament at all times.
Glycogen depletion followed by glycogen replenishment, which is known as
carbo-loading, causes the muscles to increase their water content. This can make
the muscles feel heavy and stiff. If you were a bodybuilder this maybe of an
advantage but as a table tennis player requiring speed and agility this can
effect your performance considerably.
How can I increase my performance with the use of carbohydrates?
Maintain carbohydrate balance with every meal.
Increase in carbohydrate intake before tournament or training
Eat selected types of carbohydrate during exercise
Gradual build-up of muscle and liver glycogen stores before
Eat high amounts of complex carbohydrates with increased
amounts of simple carbohydrates at breakfast, during exercise and directly
after exercise to quickly replace depleted glycogen stores.
When eating carbohydrates you need to take in fluids (water)
Before exercise meals should be high in carbohydrates,
moderate in proteins and low in fats.
Keep your fat intake to a minimum. Large amounts of fat in
your diet will add to your body fat and will cause mineral loss through
The more protein and fat the slower the absorbing of glucose.
You should eat three hours before exercise.
Train against your anaerobic threshold (to exhaustion) on a
regular basis. Intensive, exhaustive training
stimulates increased storage of glycogen in the muscles and liver, which
provides additional energy for greater exercise capacity.
Do not eat new foods just before a game. Different people
often react differently to the same food. Before a game, eat foods that you
know your body will handle well.
Flakes, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, maltose, honey
(whole grain) rice (white), Weetabix, broad beans, potatoes (new), swede
(white), rice (brown), muesli, shredded wheat, bannanas, raisins, Mars Bars
Spaghetti, sweet corn, digestive buscuits, crisps, sucrose
Oranges, orange juice, oatmeal, dried peas
beans, chick peas, apples, milk, yoghurt, tomato soup
beans, lentils, fructose