Tennis Champion Coco Gauff Says Pasta Is Her No. 1 Pre-Match Meal—Here’s Her Winning 5-Ingredient Recipe

Photo: Stocksy/ J. Anthony
Professional American tennis player Cori “Coco” Gauff knows a thing or two about winning. In 2019 at age 15, Gauff entered Wimbledon as a wild card. She ultimately defeated the five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. From there, Gauff's ascent as a tennis superstar has been a steady journey. Now at age 19, she's entered the U.S. Open—the last Grand Slam tournament of the calendar year—as a standout favorite poised to make great strides in the tournament—if not win it all. So, what keeps the top world-ranking player fueled when the competition gets heated? Something in the realm of what many of us non-pro athletes like to eat all the time: a big ole bowl of pasta.

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Ahead, we delve into Gauff’s go-to pre-match meal, how she refuels after a big tournament, and the exact five-ingredient pasta recipe she swears by for taking down her opponents.

Coco Guaff posing with racket
Photo: Barilla

The perfect pre-match meal, according to Coco Gauff

“Pasta's always been a part of my life…and it's been my pre-match meal pretty much since I've started tennis,” says Gauff, who has partnered with Barilla to donate to the Food Bank For New York City and give away meal kits for the brand's Chickpea and Red Lentil pastas in alignment with the U.S. Open kickoff. (Enter for a chance to win by visiting through August 30.)

“Pasta's always been a part of my life…and it's been my pre-match meal pretty much since I've started tennis.” —Coco Gauff, tennis player

The reason her love for pasta runs deep boils down (pun intended) to a few simple reasons: “The taste is really good, and I think it's very versatile," she says. "It could be the same pasta, but it can be different styles, different cuts, different sauces, different meats, and you get completely different flavors. And it's the easiest way for me to fuel up,” Gauff says. “I need a lot of carbs before I play, and I need a lot of fuel. So I think pasta is the easiest way to get the carbs, protein, and enjoyment before a match.”


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The pasta recipe Coco Gauff makes for pre-match fuel

Now, for the Coco Gauff pasta recipe for success. While Gauff says cacio e pepe or pesto pasta are her day-to-day favorite recipes, before a match, her go-to is penne pasta with tomato sauce, chicken, and spinach. “I keep it pretty simple and go pretty light on the tomato sauce before matches,” she says, adding that she loves topping it off with Parmesan cheese.

“Sometimes, I have to eat really fast depending on the match and how fast the match before me is going…I can just pick up penne with the fork and not have to twirl or anything.” —Gauff

As for why Gauff specifically seeks penne in her pre-match recipes? “I would say normally I'm more of a spaghetti girl, but prematch, I go with penne because it's just the easiest for me to not spill sauce on me,” she says. “Sometimes, I have to eat really fast depending on the match and how fast the match before me is going…I can just pick it up with the fork and not have to twirl or anything.” Efficiency meets practicality—we’re all for it.

What Gauff eats after a big match

After a big match, Gauff focuses on two things: Refueling and rehydrating her body. This often involves a second serving of her go-to pasta or a rice recipe with salmon and a vegetable. She also loves pesto, often pairing that with either shrimp or chicken. “It just kind of depends on how I'm feeling that day,” she says of how she decides on a post-match meal.

In addition to a nourishing post-tournament meal, Gauff also focuses on replenishing electrolytes—her go-to is Pedialyte Sport. “It's the best thing ever; I've never had cramping or anything with that. And then obviously water,” she says. While playing tennis, Gauff's water and Pedialyte intake is a two-to-one ratio of Pedialyte to water. “I would try to drink more Pedialyte than water when I'm on the court just because we lose a lot of salts when we're sweating. So we try to replenish that as quickly as we can,” Gauff says.

Gauff also likes to rely on hydrating snacks during a match. “I love to eat fruit on the court. I'm not really the type who likes to use energy gels or anything. I prefer to keep it natural, and I think fruit gives me the right amount of sugar I need,” she says. Pineapple, grapes, and strawberries are her favorites. And although she says she adores mango, she prefers to enjoy it off the court; handling the racket after noshing on super juicy fruits can be a little messy at best. But, back to the pasta.

Coco Gauff’s chickpea spaghetti alla carbonara recipe

Yields 4 servings 

1 box Barilla Chickpea Spaghetti
1 cup pancetta, diced (optional guanciale or bacon)
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste

1. In a bowl, beat egg yolks with a pinch of salt and 1/3 of the grated cheese.
2. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat.
3. Add guanciale, cut into strips, and sauté for a few minutes until lightly browned.
4. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.
5. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water, transfer to the pan with the guanciale, and mix well.
6. Remove pan from heat, add beaten egg yolks with a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water, and mix for about 30 seconds.
7. Add the remaining cheese and mix well.
8. Serve immediately, garnished with a generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.

A case for eating pasta... every day: 

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