Novak Djokovic: A lifestyle that changed his game

Novak Djokovic


On Sunday September 13th, 2015 Djokovic beat Federer for his 2nd US Open title and 10th major title. He owes his success to his diet and lifestyle change.

Djokovic often got sick during tournaments, and his competitors mocked him for it. "Cramps, bird flu, anthrax, SARS, common cough and cold," Andy Roddick said. "I think he's a joke, you know, when it comes down to his injuries," Federer said.

Once Djokovic changed his diet, the illnesses went away and the joke was on those who laughed at him. His low point was the 2010 Australian Open, when he collapsed in a match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The next year he won three Grand Slams and 43 straight matches.

In 2010, Djokovic’s nutritionist discovered that Djokovic is allergic to the protein, which is found in common flours. Djokovic banished it from his diet and lost a few pounds. He says he now feels much better on court. A gluten-free diet can have implications far beyond the physical, especially in tennis, which taxes the mind like few other sports. The season is 11 months long, matches are grueling and can last for hours, and the slightest dip in a player's confidence can derail months of hard work. There's never anyone else to blame for a match gone awry.

"It's mostly mental energy you're talking about, not energy supplied to muscle tissues," said David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, when asked about the effects of giving up gluten if one has an allergy. (An allergy differs from celiac disease, whose sufferers, Levitsky said, can incur far-reaching health effects from eating gluten, including the inability to absorb nutrients.)

A gluten intolerance is not as severe as coeliac disease but can still be harmful and have many unpleasant side effects. Wheat is found in glutinous foods such as bread, pastries and cereals and can cause painful inflammation in the gut and the joints of those with the intolerance. This can lead to ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition of the colon that causes severe abdominal pain and diarrhoea, acid reflux as well as causing autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

“Every time I took a big step toward my dream I felt as though a rope were around my torso pulling me back,” Novak explains. “Physically I couldn’t compete. Mentally I didn’t feel I belonged on the same court as the best players in the game. “There was something about me that was broken, unhealthy, and unfit. Some called it allergies, some called it asthma, some just called it being out of shape but no matter what we called it no one knew how to fix it.”

The reason he suffered for so long was because intolerances can be difficult to diagnose as they often produce similar symptoms to irritable bowel syndrome. In Novak’s case it was mistaken for asthma.



We know you’re careful about what you eat at meal times—lots of veggies, healthy protein, complex carbs. But snack time can be tricky because many “healthy” snack bars out there are loaded with sugar and calories or packed with preservatives and other ingredients concocted in a lab, not a kitchen.

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