Flashback: Novak Djokovic to 2010
Who would have thought changing the Novak Djokovic diet would make all the difference…
Think back to 2010 and earlier matches, when Djokovic would reach the later rounds of tournament play and appear to be playing exceptional tennis but when the match got extended or turned into a battle it seemed his energy would fade or he would begin to breathe heavily as if he had asthma.
Recall how Djokovic withdrew from the semifinal match at Wimbledon in 2008, the quarterfinal match at the Australian Open in 2009, along with the long injury breaks during the U.S. Open in 2009? Djokovic’s post match interviews attributed the majority of the match let downs or match withdrawals to health issues.
But then everything seemed to change for Djokovic in 2011…
The Big Question
How can it be that Djokovic went from struggling physically in the later rounds of tournament play to becoming arguably the fittest tennis player on tour? Novak won 10 tennis titles, 3 Grand Slams, and 53 consecutive matches in 2011.
Undoubtedly several factors played a role in Djokovic’s acceleration to the top of the tennis world, which include physical training, rest, and diet. However, from personal experience I would say that the greatest impact came from a change in the Novak Djokovic diet.
Novak Djokovic Diet
In early 2010 Novak Djokovic met with a Serbian doctor by the name of Igor Cetojevic who played a role in uncovering that Novak had gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance is diagnosed by eliminating gluten from a persons diet and as a result the person has resolution of symptoms. Gluten is a protein that can be found in grains we eat such as wheat, barley, and rye. Most people associate being gluten intolerant with Celiac disease due to the initial symptoms being similar. However, Djokovic suffers from gluten intolerance which can vary in sensitivity where as Celiac disease can be debilitating and life threatening in some cases.
What is Celiac Disease?
The Celiac Disease Foundation simply states, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” When individuals with Celiac disease ingest gluten their immune system reacts and damages the small intestine that can lead to the body being unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.
What is the Impact?
People who have gluten intolerance or Celiac disease can be impacted negatively when they consume gluten. The symptoms of being gluten intolerant include feeling bloated, gassy, having stomach cramps, and appearing anemic among others. As a result of not being able to absorb all the nutrients consumed into the blood stream people with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease are not taking in the calories that a normal person would and as a result can become malnourished.
It is no wonder Novak Djokovic was fatigued during his tennis matches prior to his diagnoses. Undoubtedly, his body was not absorbing all the nutrients that he was consuming. He was playing his tennis matches with his gas tank half full.
Celiac disease and gluten intolerance has impacted my family as well. My mom was diagnosed with Celiac disease when I was in high school and I can recall years of her battling through the symptoms. My mom is an amazing cook and I can recall her lying down after dinner trying to calm her stomach. The rest of the family didn’t think much of the stomach aches; being all guys we attributed being gassy to her having a sensitive stomach or over eating. Hopefully she finds humor in it now. However, when her energy began to decline rapidly we all took notice.
My mom has always been a dedicated tennis player playing around three times a week, working out with light weights and doing cardio on off days. One morning she went out for a morning run and came back in total disgust. She said she couldn’t even jog a mile without stopping. It was as if she were being held back unable to muster the energy to do what she wanted to do. Days later my mom began seeking the advice of multiple physicians and was advised to take the same ELISA test Djokovic had taken and then it all made sense.
How common is Celiac Disease and being Gluten Intolerant?
Celiac disease is far better known then even a decade ago. About 1% of the population has Celiac disease and the diagnose rate is rising as the public is becoming more aware. Also, 6% of the population has gluten sensitivity but these individuals do not have Celiac disease, according to Celiac Central.
Novak Djokovic Diet Solution = Gluten Free
The only cure to Celiac disease or gluten intolerance is to lead a 100% gluten free diet. Leading a gluten free lifestyle takes persistence and dedication. A person pursuing a gluten free diet would substitute wheat pastas and breads for alternatives that are made out of rice, corn, or oatmeal to name a few. Being cautions of anything you consume is also a must. For example, when my mom goes shopping she checks the back of food packages for modified food starch or other cues and clues that may indicate if the product contains or could contain gluten.
Fortunately for Novak, he has a whole team around him, including a dietitian and nutritionist to help him transition to a 100% gluten free diet. My mom was also fortunate due to being a registered dietitian herself and having experience with the effects that food and diet can have on people through her clinical work in the hospital.
A blood test can be done to screen for celiac disease and a bowel biopsy may be needed to confirm the results. You must be consuming wheat, rye or barley food items daily before having these tests to have accurate results.
Novak Djokovic diet right for everyone?
Not all of us need to avoid gluten entirely in our diets, unless you have medical reasons or have been advised from your physician to do so. However, Djokovic and my mom’s story speak volumes to the effect diet can have on an athlete’s performance.
Think of the small steps that can be taken in your own lifestyle or diet that may translate into big results for your health and tennis game and share them with us by commenting below and subscribing to the blog.
Thanks for reading and I will see you on the court!