John Isner is competing at home this week at the Dallas Open, which is being held at the Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
The American, who is into the quarter-finals, lives within walking distance of the venue. A food aficionado, he is certainly familiar with the local cuisine. ATPTour.com caught up with Isner to chat about the best food in the area, how he views his diet as a tennis player, his cooking skills and what he feels is a myth about nutrition.
What are some of the things you enjoy cooking the most?
There is no food I don’t like, so I like to cook everything, or at least I try to. I don’t think I’m the best cook, I just like to cook. I like to stir fry a lot of stuff.
Lately I’ve been making a lot of soup with the weather being cold, whether it’s chili or chicken tortilla soup, white bean turkey chili soup. I’ve just been making a lot of stuff. I have a Big Green Egg, so I like to smoke a lot of stuff on that. It makes it fun, and it’s easy. When you’re smoking it, cooking it indirectly, you just set it, leave it, I can go do whatever for a few hours come back and check on it. It’s fun.
I made a brisket one time that took 14 hours, cooked it overnight. I slept terribly because I was worried about it! I spent like $250 on it because it was a wagyu brisket and I wanted it to be really good. It turned out great. I make a lot of stuff on the grill: chicken, simple stuff. [A simple dish I like to make is] chicken or steak with sweet potatoes or [another] vegetable.
How much do you enjoy experimenting with your rubs?
I used to, and now I don’t do my own rubs. It stresses me out. I’m always missing one ingredient and I have to go to the store to get it. I just have a tonne of rubs that are already made for me.
As a tennis player, you have to watch your diet. How strict are you with yourself?
I’m pretty strict. I won’t say I’m Novak Djokovic-strict, but at night is when I become more strict. I try to watch what I eat. I try to eat healthy. With three kids at home, sometimes you have to just give in and order a pizza. But that’s only if I don’t have a tournament looming. I’m pretty strict.
I know what to eat, I know what I feel good on, what gives me good fuel and I try to cook that way. We try to cook a lot because going to a restaurant with three young kids can be very stressful. You feel bad and you tip extra because the floor is disgusting.
The Last Time With… John Isner
How different is your diet during a tournament?
During a tournament, when I’m not literally at home [like I am here in Dallas], you’re eating out all the time. It’s almost easier eating healthy when you’re eating out, I think. You just make sure you order healthy.
Don’t order the desserts or pizza. Keep it simple. I guess for me, when I do eat carbs, I try to have them at lunch and try to eat a little bit on the lighter side before I go to bed. That’s how I feel the best in the morning.
What do you eat on the day of a match?
It depends on when I play. It’s just standard chicken and rice. I don’t eat much pasta, so it’s just chicken, rice and veggies before a match. If the match before me is going long, or if I anticipated playing at 3 and it’s 4:30 and I haven’t played yet, I love to eat peanut butter and honey, a little sandwich.
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What’s your go-to cheat meal?
My go-to cheat meal is probably a big burger and fries. You can’t beat that. I do like In-N-Out. There are a couple of In-N-Outs in Dallas. Dallas is renowned for its burgers. Everyone has their favourite burgers. There’s Keller’s, Goff’s, Burger House, Hudson House. It’s unbelievable. Hudson House has an unbelievable burger.
What’s your advice to juniors coming up who don’t know what to do nutritionally as a tennis player?
You can get away with eating like crap at a young age, but you don’t want to get into a habit of that. I think just learn some simple staples. Eating pasta and loading up on carbs the night before a match, I think that’s a myth in my opinion. I don’t think that’s the thing to do.
But learn what’s healthy, the good carbs for me are like a sweet potato. You can’t beat that. It gives you unbelievable energy. Also, try to educate yourself. It doesn’t mean you need to go crazy about it. But try to educate yourself on eating healthy because it will pay dividends in the long run.