CoCo Vandeweghe: A Day in The Life of An Elite Tennis Star
Tennis is as much an art form as it is a sport, and as such it’s demanding. It requires an immense amount of physical skill, including outstanding body control, hand-eye coordination, swiftness, and endurance.
But tennis also requires equally as much mental prowess, involving strategic thinking and high levels of concentration. To perform and excel at the highest level, tennis requires a precise nutrition plan that meets the unique demands of the sport.
We caught up with 2018 U.S. Open doubles champion and Thorne enthusiast, CoCo Vandeweghe, and her personal sports dietitian, to get a glimpse into what goes into fueling greatness.
A Day in the Life – Training and Nutrition
CoCo took us through a typical day to give us a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into implementing a well-designed training and nutrition plan that enables CoCo to compete at the highest level.
The demands and needs of a professional tennis athlete changes drastically throughout the year depending on competition schedule, travel, injury prevention, and health maintenance.
CoCo has a team around her that helps manage these day-to-day changes. One of the key members of CoCo’s team is Paige Crawford, a sports dietitian who has worked the University of Texas and Auburn University, as well as with NFL, MLB, and other Olympic athletes.
Paige and her team lay out each day’s training, nutrition, and recovery plan based on Coco’s training, competition phase, goals, body composition, and advanced diagnostic information.
Like all good nutrition programs, CoCo’s plan begins with breakfast.
She knows how important breakfast is and she creates her meals based on the options and portions discussed with her team. A typical morning meal might include Greek yogurt, berries, granola, and nuts, or eggs and avocado, for protein and healthy fats, and spinach and fruit for vitamins and minerals.
After breakfast, training begins. Although her training varies, CoCo generally gets at least one on-the-court session daily (two sessions in the off-season) and one training session in the gym. Recovering from this training is a key point of emphasis for CoCo and her team.
“CoCo is great about her recovery nutrition. She knows it’s important and doesn't skip it, which means she packs tubs of whey protein and amino acids wherever she travels,” Paige told us.
Paige explained that CoCo’s needs are “calculated based off her lean mass and designed to ensure she is getting enough leucine [a branched chain amino acid] for muscle synthesis.
She will also work to rehydrate as a part of her recovery post-session, but realistically throughout the day. It’s easy for CoCo to get this in quickly post-training, even though she normally eats approximately an hour post-session depending on the day.”
Lunch integrates more recovery nutrition — colorful fruits, veggies, spices, lean protein, and quality carbohydrates and fats to keep CoCo’s energy steady, while still allowing her muscles to recover before her next training session or tennis match.
When laying out what a typical lunch looks like, CoCo describes a mix of carbohydrates such as rice or quinoa, lean proteins like chicken and steak, and of course, veggies and healthy fats.
Paige helped break down the science behind this specific lunch diet.
“It is pretty frequent that CoCo’s lunch falls between activities, whether it be a two-a-day training during the offseason, or between lifting, hitting, or cardio. This means replenishing her glycogen is key, so, as she mentioned, healthy carbs and a lean protein is critical for her muscles to rebuild and support her immune system, as well as lots of colorful veggies for their antioxidants and variety of vitamins and minerals, and finally some quality fats like olive oil, avocado, oil-based dressings, or nuts and seeds.”
CoCo and her team make sure she gets into a routine that allows her lunch to fit her preferences and portions no matter where she is.
This can be a meal her team makes and delivers to her off-court at a tennis center, made at home, or out and about while she is on the road.
Dinner follows similar guidelines, with slight adjustments. Since the focus of the meal is now more about recovery than performance, there’s a decrease in carbs and an increase in protein.
And on those days when dinner comes early, CoCo will have a pre-bed protein snack to provide nutrients for recovery while she sleeps, sometimes as simple as a scoop of whey protein or almonds.
Tennis and Travel Demands
Competition schedules keep tennis players on the road frequently — often internationally — which creates unique challenges, particularly for training and nutrition.
Changing time zones and accessing different food sources presents barriers that can significantly impact performance and recovery.
CoCo explained to us the impact of frequent travel on athletes. “As a professional athlete, this is something that takes time to learn, but it’s vital for anyone’s success. I think as a young tennis player, first coming on the Tour, everyone struggles with this, which is why you don’t see super-young players breaking through consistently. I always try to sleep on planes and remain very hydrated.”
The impact of travel on nutrition is of major importance to CoCo’s performance team as well.
“CoCo is really good at keeping up with her nutrition when she is traveling,” Paige says. “There are many challenges from time zone adjustments, different climates (changes in hydration strategy), and language barriers, to food sourcing and food sanitation.
There is a lot to consider, so I often check with the hotel she is at to get their menus to help her decode things on it. She is great about sending me menus when she isn’t sure about the options and keeping me in the loop if any fueling concerns arise.
She is in a great routine with her supplements as well, which makes it easy to fill in the gaps when her nutrition gets challenging.”
CoCo is quick to agree. “On the road, it’s more touch and go; however, I always travel with Thorne.”
Occasionally, with input from her team, CoCo adjusts her nutrition plan to take advantage of the unique cultures that she experiences with travel.
“I do stick to my typical diet, but I sometimes throw in a cheat day now and then to immerse myself in the local cuisine,” she said.
Success stems from nutrition and training
Nutrition is essential to CoCo because she competes at an elite level, but it’s also important to everyday tennis players and athletes of all ages and skill level. We asked CoCo and Paige what they would tell aspiring athletes.
They were quick to caution that it’s easy to put yourself at a disadvantage if you do not prioritize hydration and proper nutritional fueling for your sport.
“You might not drink enough fluid, or you might skip a meal, and still perform in a tennis match, but there is a direct correlation with performance and recovery for these things, so make sure you are enjoying food and maintaining a positive relationship with fueling and listening to your body.
If you are feeling hungry, stuffed, or drained, it is usually a sign that you are missing the mark somewhere in your nutrition strategy, so try to identify where you can upgrade your nutrition game plan,” Paige told us.
As for Coco’s parting words of advice for aspiring athletes, “Do your homework and don’t cut corners. With all the data and research out there, success is directly correlated to how you handle your diet, conditioning, and training, and most importantly what you put into your body. If you want to be the best, take and use the best.”