Ready, Set, Go

By Candace Chemtob

Whether you are a junior, college, professional player or a weekend warrior, preparation is essential to your success on the squash court. You have spent countless hours training and conditioning. Don’t drop the ball right before an important match. Those precious hours and minutes before you step on the court can impact your performance. Here are a few last minute tips to help you perform at your best:

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep and rest are crucial to recovery from the physical and mental demands of high intensity training. Extreme sleep deprivation (no sleep for twenty-four to thirty-six hours) decreases performance as shown in endurance runners and sprinters. Similarly, a general lack of adequate sleep (five hours of sleep for four days) decreases lung function and strength, compromising performance. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to increase fatigue, stress, anger and depress your mood, all of which will keep you from performing at your peak. If you are lacking sleep, take a nap before or between matches if possible: thirty-minute naps have been shown to improve athletic performance and decrease feelings of fatigue.

2. Be prepared. In those critical moments before an important match, a player should be focused and concentrated on the match. One sure way to break a player’s focus is to discover that you have forgotten something. This is an unnecessary distraction at a time your attention should be 100% on the match at hand. In the worst-case scenario, a haphazardly-packed bag may cause a player to default. This list of squash bag essentials compiled with the help of several professional players:

-Racquets (three minimum)
-Protective eyewear (two pairs)
-Set of strings, extra grips
-Sneakers (two pairs)
-Sweat bands (wrist and head), bandanna, hair ties, barrettes, towel
-Extra pair of socks, shorts, T-shirt, sweat pants, hoodie, extra undergarments
-Bag for dirty clothes
-Phone, headphones, notebook, pen
-Jump rope for warm up
-First aid items: band aids, artificial skin, Ibuprofen (or similar), ace bandage
-Food and drinks, water bottle

4. Eat to win. If you don’t fuel properly, you will not reach your peak performance. A winning eating strategy should be based on scientific evidence, not fad diets. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for exercise and here are the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine and American (and Canadian) Dietetics Associations:

Total daily carbohydrate requirements:
5 to 7g/kg/day for moderate exercise (one hour per day)
=340 to 477 total g carb/day for 150 pound athlete.
6 to 10g/kg/day for moderate to high intensity training (one to three hours per day)
= 409 to 681 total g carb/day for 150 pound athlete.

One to four hours prior to exercise: high carbohydrate (1 to 4g carbohydrate/kg= 68 to 272g for 150 pound athlete), low fat, low fiber meal.

For example, pasta with tomato sauce, eggs/egg whites, chicken or turkey sandwich, bagel, cereal, rice, beans, oatmeal, pretzel, fruit, dried fruits, energy bar, yogurt, milk, juice, smoothie. Skip the fries, chips, pizza, cheese, nut butters and other high fat foods prior to match, as these high-fat foods slow down digestion.

One hour or less prior to match: 30 to 60g carbohydrates. If your match is less than forty-five minutes, as most squash matches are, you do not need to consume any carbohydrates one hour or less beforehand. However, this should be individualized, and if you notice that your performance is improved by eating or drinking prior to a match, determine what foods work and stick to this regimen.

For example: 16oz sports drink, 2oz raisins, one banana, energy bar, gels, low fat granola bar, or three fig bars.

5. Have a contingency plan for food and drinks. A tournament is not a good time to try out a new eating regimen. As a squash mom, I have learned from experience that finding the foods your athlete wants on the road can be impossible. Plan ahead. Bring a supply of fruits, dried fruits, trail mix, energy bars, gels, jelly beans, crackers, juice or milk (that does not require refrigeration), sports drinks and water to the courts.

6. Avoid alcohol before and during tournaments. Premature celebrations will put a real damper on your performance. Alcohol will decrease your aerobic performance, impair motor skills for up to seventy-two hours, decrease strength, slows recovery, leads to increased body fat accumulation, depresses immune system, and disrupts sleep.