25 August 2013
So Novak Djokovic has put his recent success in tennis down to a gluten-free diet. Even more intriguing for me is the way he discovered his so-called intolerance: by the good ol’ ‘holding ‘bread against stomach’ test (yes!). Thanks to the insightful observations of fellow-Serb Dr Cetojevic, Djokovic’s previous tendency to asthma and collapsing in tournaments was cured by removing gluten from his diet. According to media reports, “I was a different man. My life changed because I had begun to eat the right foods for my body”.
Hang on, why has gluten sensitivity suddenly become so fashionable? A global trend? Can it really be the answer for lacklustre performance and poor energy (as well as myriad of other health conditions)? The problem is there’s no medical definition of it, no diagnostic test for it and negligible scientific evidence that it exists or benefits 99% of the non-coeliac population. Its not coeliac disease (an inflammatory response to gluten that damages the gut lining) and its not IBS. Some experts say it’s a conspiracy driven by food marketers, recruiting celebrities to spread the word, to damage competitor categories.
Thankfully, we have the voice of reason in Andy Murray who, apparently, tried the Djokavic diet for a couple of months, ‘felt awful..so weak..’ and went back to ‘eating healthy food’, won Wimbledon in 2013 and the rest is (hopefully) history.
Djokovic’s book “Serve To Win, the 14-day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence” will doubtlessly appeal to many fans but remember: nutrition is very individual and there’s no one size fits all approach. Gluten-free probably works for him. It may well work for others but NOT EVERYONE. According to David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, If you believe in a cause of your symptoms then it becomes the cause.
But when you read that Djokovic also drinks a glass of water upon rising, followed by stretching, yoga or tai chi, breakfast, some hitting practise, stretching, massage, lunch, weights, protein drink, stretching , more hitting, stretching and another massage, me thinks that for us mortals THAT is what makes an elite player great not simply the removal of gluten!
The bottom line: rather than worry over individual food components you should aim to balance healthy (‘real’) food with good quality sleep, adequate relaxation (yoga etc), less stress and smart training techniques.