Just as there are many pickleball styles, there are a variety of ways to eat and drink at a tournament. Age and geography matter—the younger the player, the stricter the regimen, and the farther west you travel, the more you hear about foods such as kale, tofu and almonds.
Here’s a sampling of some great pickleball players—and what foods keep them in the game.
Wes Gabrielsen of McMinnville, OR, stresses preparation. Unlike tennis, where your match begins at a fixed time, in pickleball you may play two matches back-to-back and then wait two-and-a-half hours before your next one. So Wes prepares by bringing a cooler filled with food. But before he plays, he eats the same breakfast each morning—Greek yogurt with nut butter, and granola and bran with honey. He believes routines are very important.
As a vegetarian, Wes makes sure he gets sufficient protein, so he adds a garden burger or eggplant to his pasta the night before a tournament. He drinks “tons of water” and adds NUUN electrolyte tabs. Wes coaches a high school tennis team and emphasizes nutrition and preparation to his players. “The worst thing is not being prepared for your final match,” he says.
Marcin Rozpedski still hydrates like his UCLA coach, Billy Martin, taught him. “If we didn't have a water bottle in our hands, we had to run a lap,” Marcin recalls. To add electrolytes, he drinks a mix of Pedialyte and water. Marcin has steak once a month, no hamburgers, and eats chicken, rice, pasta, fish, grapes and veggies. His son eats well, too, because they don’t have junk food in the house. When I asked him about pierogies, he laughed and explained there aren’t authentic pierogies in Palm Springs, but admits, “They are the best thing in the world!”
Carolyn Bagley lived in Alaska, so salmon and halibut bring back memories. But she doesn’t just rely on memories. When she hunts in Alaska, she ships the meat to her homes in Arizona and Florida. She prefers meat to pasta and bread or potatoes. Carolyn eats green vegetables and salads and drinks lots of water. Carolyn says she has an “agreeable digestive system,” so she’ll eat FOODIESCherie Chao packs her meals in a suitcase when she travels to tournaments. She eats a whole food, plant-based diet.a hamburger from the vendors. She says she’d “rather be full than operate on low energy.”
Buzz Summers of Eugene, OR, has always been disciplined. In his 80s, he works out with weights three times a week, rides a bike, stretches, and eats sensibly. The night before a tournament, he might have spaghetti, then he’ll munch all day on fruit bars, granola and bananas. He eats the Italian combo at Subway and advocates “doing your own thing.”
Barb Wintroub, from Palm Desert, CA, was a triathlete for 22 years and takes nutrition seriously. She drinks electrolytes using NUUN and mixes V8 juice with water for sodium and potassium. “Water doesn’t replace salts,” she explains. She’s read numerous books on nutrition and says, “tomato juice is supposed to be good for the skin, but I’m still waiting.” The night before a tournament, her training meal contains no sugar or alcohol. She eats gluten-free bread, makes two sandwiches of peanut butter and jelly and chicken or turkey with avocado to take to the courts.
Scott Moore of Colorado Springs, CO, takes his preparation seriously and has a high carb load, often Italian, the night before he plays. His breakfast is high in protein—an omelet and a protein shake. He hydrates “a ton” the day before and the day of play on energy drinks that are low in sugar. He drinks Alert from B3 Sciences along with plenty of electrolytes in water and coconut water.
Farther east, there doesn’t seem to be as much intensity and strict adherence to health trends. There’s a greater tendency toward fun and camaraderie while still maintaining a healthy regimen. Tournaments in Louisiana come to mind! Nashville's Stephanie Lane and her daughter, LeEllen, eat a protein bar for breakfast and snack during the day on crackers and more protein bars. Steph eats “like a rabbit” during the day, with trail mix, peanut butter and jelly, oranges and granola. She takes no supplements or vitamins, drinks Gatorade and Powerade, and adds electrolyte powders. Before or after a match she has a protein shake with almond milk. Steph and LeEllen travel together and there’s no nagging because LeEllen is a “great eater.” Her favorite food is sushi.
Living and playing in the south means friendship is more important than food. Bart Brannon of Wildwood, GA, notes that when he walks into Popeye’s, they start cooking his order. “I’m a regular and they know what I want,” he says. He eats a good meal the night before he plays, but doesn’t between matches. Instead, he drinks a 5-Hour Energy after his first match and keeps a towel on ice with ammonia in his cooler. Fried chicken and fries are his specialty. He once drove 25 miles off the Ohio interstate to eat at Canes Chicken. I was a witness! Bart plays a lot of tournaments in Mississippi and Louisiana, where Canes and Popeye’s leave the lights on for him.
Colorado’s Cherie Chao is the other extreme. Cherie works as a dietitian in Cardiac Rehab and, as a result, has become a whole food, plant-based eater. Besides the health benefits, Cherie loves animals and is concerned for the health of the planet. She avoids all animal products and most processed foods. Her diet consists of legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.
When traveling, Cherie finds it easier to take a lot of food with her. She starts her day (whether home or at a tournament) with a bowl of whole grains, usually oatmeal topped with berries, dried fruit and a mixture of flax meal, hemp and chia seeds, almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. This is a great start because it’s loaded with protein, fiber and other nutrients. She says it’s important to eat the same foods in competition as you do in training. It’s what your body is used to, which makes you less apt to have any gastrointestinal issues. This breakfast is easy to pack in baggies and take on the road.
Other foods in her suitcase include peanut butter, dried fruits, nuts, Tetra packs of ethnic foods such as Channa Masala, Madras Lentils, quinoa and brown rice. Once off the plane, she heads to the grocery store for fresh fruit, veggies, hummus, edamame, sweet potatoes, soy milk, V8 tomato juice (great sodium and potassium) and 100-percent whole-grain bread. Her lunches and snacks are usually veggies and hummus, edamame, peanut butter and banana sandwich, fruit, dried fruits, nuts and water. She often joins others at night for a meal out at a restaurant—there are choices at almost all restaurants, especially ethnic. Just look for legumes and veggies, bean or lentil soups, and salads work great (hold the cheese).