| By Irina Belfer-Lehat

Proper nutrition is the key to maintaining energy throughout your tennis match. When exercising, your body is largely fueled by carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, but you need to continue fueling your body during a long tennis match. Starting with a full tank and keeping hydrated are important, but the longer you play, the more you depend on snacks to keep your energy up. Snacks should be on board for any tennis match over an hour.

But what makes a good tennis snack is about more than just energy. It needs to be portable, provide your muscles with the nutrients needed, be eaten on a good schedule and cannot melt. Pack more snacks than you think you may need. In general, aim to have a few bites of food and a few sips of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.

Here are five super snacks for you to pack into your tennis bags:

1. Powered by the peel: Bananas are snacks that are ready to roll. They are famous for their potassium and contain carbohydrates that may provide advantages to your muscles' ability to use the fuel efficiently. A recent study compared bananas to commercial sports drinks and found them to be equal.

2. Peanut butter/jelly time: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are perfect pocket fuel. The bread and jam (or honey) provide carbohydrates and the peanut butter offers protein and fats. Allergic to peanuts? Try almond butter if you can tolerate tree nuts or sunflower butter if not. Cut your sandwich into quarters and have one piece each 15 to 20 minute increment.

3. Trail mix: Dried fruits and nuts are a concentrated source of carbohydrates. Dried apricots, prunes and raisins have the added benefit of potassium. Mix your favorite fruits with nuts and seeds to keep your body supplied with energy, vitamin E and magnesium. If you have a heavy sweat rate, you may want to choose salted nuts and seeds.

4. Water works: In general, if you're planning to play tennis for an hour or less, water is the best way to stay hydrated and to prevent drinking the calories you just burned. If you're going to be playing for more than an hour, if you have a heavy sweat rate or if the weather is exceptionally hot, consider having two bottles with you: One for water and one for a sports drink. You may purchase a sports drink for the sake of convenience, but making your own with black or green iced-tea, a splash of juice, some sugar and a pinch of salt is easy and provides an added antioxidant boost. Take sips of fluid often to maintain hydration and alternate between the two drinks if packing both.

5. Energy bars: While energy bars are convenient, they can also be expensive. If you would like to use energy bars, look for one that has ingredients such as whole grains, dried fruits and nuts.

Irina Belfer-Lehat

Irina Belfer-Lehat of Nutrition Solutions Co. is a New York State-licensed dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist. Irina Lehat RD Nutrition Solutions offers group classes starting in September, for kids in kindergarten through high school. Small groups, affordable prices! Mention this article and receive 20 percent off any services. For more information, call (917) 769-8031, e-mail irinalehat@gmail.com or visit www.irinalehat.com.