Nutrition gives top tennis player an edge

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Rubin Statham turned pro in 2004 at the age of 16.  At 17 he represented New Zealand in the Davis Cup – the youngest tennis player in the Cup’s history.  Aged 19 he ranked as New Zealand’s number one.

Ten years on and Rubin is working his way back from a major injury.  He spent seven months in 2014 rehabbing a snapped elbow tendon.  The injury happened at the beginning of February 2014 during the last day of the Davis Cup vs China, playing the Chinese number one Di Wu.

“It was a very tricky injury with no clear recovery path,” said Rubin.  “We threw everything at it.  PRP (Plasma Rich Platelet) injections, acupuncture and massage.  It was very hard mentally because it was the first time I’d had an injury over such an extended period of time.”

While his elbow was recovering, he just had to watch and hope.  Rubin admits that there were times when he doubted he would ever get back to playing top flight tennis – so he waited and watched his ranking drop.  “I spent a lot of time in the gym during those months, getting in peak physical shape.  Most days I would fit in two to three sessions with my personal trainer Luke Vela.”

The injury break gave Rubin an unaccustomed amount of thinking time.  “Professional tennis players work unbelievably hard in this country,” he said.  “It’s a ten-month season and you only really get six weeks off at the back end of December – and that’s the NZ domestic season.

“You often go straight from one tournament to the next, so recovery is a big deal.  You need to be able to sustain playing matches of up to five hours, daily, five days a week; then get on a plane to play a different tournament the following week.

“At the beginning of my career someone told me that you need a short memory to be a professional tennis player.  It took me a couple of years to understand that comment fully.  It means you’ve got no time to dwell on individual matches or tournaments.    You play, then win or lose; you move on and start again.”

Just prior to his injury, Rubin had started to look more closely at nutrition.  After ten years in the game, he recognised the advantage to be gained from training smarter, optimising recovery and keeping his diet clean.  “There are so many elements to playing top level tennis: mental, physical and emotional.  You’ve got to tick all the boxes.”

Rubin started looking for a way to get more fresh fruit and vegetables into his diet while travelling to compete in Asia, Europe and North and South America.  He found that after a couple of months on the road, his energy levels would start to drop and he would burn out mentally and physically.

“When I’m travelling there’s not a lot of time to go hunting for fresh fruit and veg.  In the past I could go a week without eating fresh produce.  I started taking Nuzest’s Good Green Stuff and Clean Lean Protein on the road with me as a way of getting all the vitamins and nutrients I needed, quickly and easily. “

Since January 2014 Rubin has been including the supplements three times a day as a regular part of his diet.  He returned to competitive tennis in August 2014 and saw a difference in his recovery, physical condition and mental clarity.  “I noticed that there was no physical downward spiral.  I’m convinced that these products are helping me to maintain the balance between nutrient supply and demand.”

Rubin takes Clean Lean Protein and Good Green Stuff mixed together within 30 minutes of finishing his training sessions and before every match.  “I find the supplements extend my energy levels and help recovery.  My muscles aren’t breaking down and I’m seeing very little soreness or depletion of strength and speed the next day.  Before I began using Nuzest products, I would hit a wall ninety minutes into a match – that’s just not the case anymore.”

Rubin also reports a reduction in percentage body fat and an increase in lean muscle.  “The changes I’m seeing have more to do with diet than training.  The programme developed by my trainer Luke Vella is based more on functional fitness for tennis and my specific training needs than heavy load-bearing exercises that build muscle.

“Most importantly the extra clarity I get from Good Green Stuff really makes a difference.  When you expend so much mental energy for hours at a time, you do notice what helps.  I am definitely mentally sharper for longer periods.”

According to Rubin, going back into competitive tennis seven months after his elbow injury was nerve-wracking.  He describes his first three-hour match against Japan’s Ken Onishi in the Korea F10 tournament as ‘really bad’.  It was a long game where, Rubin admits, he let his head get in the way.

After that hard win Rubin made a clear decision not to put himself mentally and physically on the line by playing drawn-out games.  Going forwards, win or lose, he was going to do it quickly!

This decision put Rubin mentally back in the driver’s seat. “I’ve had good results since,” he said.  In September 2014, he beat Taiwan’s number one during his 11th year competing in the Davis Cup.  New Zealand took away the win.

Rubin then played four Australian tournaments back-to-back which resulted in his climbing 300 spots on the ATP rankings.  He beat Japan’s Go Soeda, ranked 47th in the world.  The following week he made the finals of a $15,000 event.  At the beginning of December last year, Rubin took away the West End Cup back at home in New Zealand before going on to be a finalist in the 2014 New Zealand nationals.

After an equally strong start to the 2015 season, taking away a win at the Te Anau Invitational and reaching the quarter finals of the Australian $50,000 ATP Challenger, Rubin is now back in the top spot as New Zealand’s number one men’s singles player.

“For the next few months the pressure’s off a little because I don’t have any points to defend until August,” concluded Rubin.  “My focus is on staying injury-free so I can play at my best throughout 2015.”

Article as published in NZ Fitness, February/March 2015