Novak Djokovic is competing in this year’s US Open as the number one ranked tennis player in the world. In his new book ‘Serve to Win,’ Serbian details the gluten-free diet that enabled him to reach the pinnacle of world tennis.
Novak Djokovic had what has been described as the greatest singles tennis season ever. He won three Grand Slams and went unbeaten for 43 consecutive matches. However, less than a year before his remarkable transformation, Novak had struggled even to complete a tournament. An undoubted talent, he suffered from stamina issues, aches, pains, and breathing difficulties and seemed destined to languish as the third seed.
Djokovic describes how he survived the bombing of Belgrade, rising above a war-torn childhood to reach the very pinnacle of his sport. He credits his change of diet with providing the extra energy and extra gear that allowed him to realize his potential.
The Djokovic family restaurant has a wood-burning pizza oven at its center, and Novak grew up with a love for the gluten-heavy Italian foods pizza and pasta as well as bread.
But as his career progressed, he was bedeviled by fitness crises, sometimes vomiting violently during a match and experiencing the sudden onset of extreme sluggishness.
Fellow Serb and nutritionist Dr. Igor Cetojevic suspected that his problems were down to wheat intolerance, and the book describes the Doctor’s primitive test that changed everything.
In his clinic, he asked Djokovic to hold out his right arm and place his left arm against his stomach. He then pressed down on his right arm and asked Novak to feel the resistance to the pressure with his left hand, as was normal.
He then gave the tennis player a slice of bread and told him to hold it against his stomach. The result was startling, as this time, the resistance was significantly lower. It started the investigation into his intolerances, and blood tests revealed that he was strongly intolerant to wheat and slightly to tomatoes.
Discovering his intolerance to gluten (Coeliac disease) was both a blessing and a curse. While it instantly put wheat and wheat flour-based foods off the menu (all the good stuff), his change to a gluten-free diet transformed his training. The key to the diet is removing both gluten and dairy. ‘Serve to win’ gives a 14-day program of the Djokovic diet, with ingredients and recipes for every meal. Novak claims that you will feel the difference in your body after only one day.
A big believer in the medicinal benefits of Manuka honey, it is an ever-present component in his nutritional program. Made by introduced European honeybees from the nectar of the Manuka flower, which grows in New Zealand and southwest Australia, Manuka honey has a medicinal flavor compared to its sweeter cousin. Manuka honey has its supporters, and Djokovic is among the most vociferous, claiming it a panacea. It doesn’t come cheap, however, with a small pot costing up to $50.
The approach is holistic, however, and there’s more to it than simply an advanced grocery list. He also recommends taking time out from your day for self-reflection, meditation, stretching, and importantly attending to the positive relationships with friends and family in your life, as well as a 20-minute power nap every day.
- Breakfast: Glass of warm water; two spoons of manuka honey; muesli (including organic, gluten-free rolled oats, cranberries, raisins, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, and almonds) with almond milk.
- Mid-morning snack: Gluten-free bread or crackers with avocado and tuna.
- Lunch: Mixed greens salad, gluten-free pasta primavera (rice pasta, summer squash, courgettes, asparagus, and sun-dried tomatoes).
- Mid-afternoon snack: Apple with cashew butter; melon.
- Dinner: Kale Caesar salad (kale, fennel, quinoa, and pine nuts) plus dressing (including anchovies or sardines); minestrone soup; salmon fillets (skin on) with roasted tomatoes and marinade.
- Breakfast: Glass of warm water; two spoons of manuka honey; banana with cashew butter; fruit.
- Mid-morning snack (if needed): Gluten-free toast with almond butter and honey.
- Lunch: Mixed greens salad, spicy soba noodle salad (including gluten-free soba noodles, red bell pepper, rocket, cashews, and basil leaves, plus spicy vinaigrette).
- Mid-afternoon snack: Fruit and nut bar; fruit
- Dinner: Tuna Nicoise salad (green beans, cannellini beans, rocket, tuna, red pepper, tomatoes, and canned chickpeas), tomato soup, roasted tomatoes.
- Breakfast: Glass of warm water; two spoons of manuka honey; gluten-free oats with cashew butter and bananas; fruit.
- Mid-morning snack (if needed): Home-made hummus (including chickpeas and gluten-free soy sauce) with apples/crudités
- Lunch: Mixed greens salad, gluten-free pasta with power pesto (including rice pasta, walnuts, and basil leaves).
- Mid-afternoon snack: Avocado with gluten-free crackers; fruit
- Dinner: Fresh mixed-greens salad with avocado and homemade dressing; carrot and ginger soup; whole lemon-roasted chicken.