ATHENS — As Georgia and Oklahoma battled for a spot in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in May 2013 at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, then-sophomore Nick Wood of UGA went into a full body cramp during his match.
Wood recalled wondering why his body was breaking down when he felt so fit.
In the two seasons since Wood’s incident, the Georgia tennis team has placed an increased emphasis on nutrition, going to science-based diets and adding more staff.
“The program has done a great job at providing its athletes with better quality food,” said senior Ben Wagland. “It has without a doubt given us the energy needed to compete at a high level, especially in singles when I know it’s going to be a long match.”
With the tennis season set to begin on Jan.16, at the MLK Invitational, both the Georgia men’s and women’s tennis teams will look to start strong and win the NCAA tournament in May.
The team hired Zack Barnett as the new team nutritionist this semester. Barnett has been a part of the nutritional staff for a year now, so he is familiar with the expectations. He plans on continuing the previous nutrition program, along with adding his own plan.
Players need carbs, proteins and fats to compete, Barnett said, “so the focus now is to understand how to spread those out evenly based on gender, age, and training volume.”
He added: “The nutrition team is working closely with strength coaches and athletic trainers to base all diet recommendations off that.”
Five UGA sports dietitians work with the tennis team and collaborate on the offerings at the athlete training tables. Training tables are made available once a day.
“Our main goal is not only to improve our players’ performance, but to also improve their overall health,” Barnett said.
During Wagland’s freshman year, he played a semifinal match in the SEC tournament against Texas A&M that went 7-6 in the third set.
“There was extreme heat that led to a late cramp, but I was able to push through,” said Wagland. “I definitely wouldn’t have gotten through that match had it not been for the program getting me on a healthier diet.”
Tennis has transitioned from a net game to a baseline game, where each point can take up to around five minutes.
“Having played in so many matches throughout my collegiate career, every long point builds up and wears your body down physically,” said senior Austin Smith.
The increased time it takes to win points in tennis is due to players improving their ability to track and return more balls. Now the expectation to be great at the sport consists of not only having a great offense, but also a great defense.
“The program tailors a lot of food with antioxidants and products to decrease inflammation, so the athletes can train more often and obtain more flexibility,” said Barnett.
In addition, tennis technology has evolved, most notably in its tennis rackets. Rackets are constantly becoming lighter. Lighter rackets, coupled with the increased speed on racket swings creates a lot of pressure on the elbow.
“Even little things like a sore arm can be avoided by eating right,” Smith said.
The nutrition program has made its players more aware of the importance of eating healthy.
“It influences how well you perform on the court,” said senior Silvia Garcia. “The people who are a part of the program help us with everything, from answering our questions to directly improving our diet.“
The Georgia tennis players modify their diets based on what foods are best for them such as cutting back on some carbs and junk food. The nutrition program staffers gauge what the athletes like and need. Austin Smith makes sure he keeps his blood sugar up during matches with honey sticks.
“Just the understanding of how much an individual can tolerate makes a difference,” said Barnett.“ “Some can drink two bottles of Powerade and some vomit if they have a little bit.”
The Georgia tennis teams have always entered the NCAA tournaments mostly healthy and at full strength.
“It’s a credit to our nutrition program for always having our players in great shape.” said head coach Manuel Diaz. “Being around the team for so long, you forget how important nutrition can be considering how long the collegiate season is.”
The nutrition program has helped Wood, now a senior, gain a better understanding of his body.
“I know a full body cramp will never happen again, especially not during a match,” said Wood. “I’ve learned everything the program emphasizes from how to properly hydrate to simply controlling my breathing.”
Nguyen is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.