The Paleo Caveman Diet of Tennis Star Novak Djokovic

U.S. Open tennis match, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the reason Novak Djokovic has won 41 straight matches this year is that he is allergic to gluten and has removed it from his diet. The streak included 4 wins over Nadal and 3 over Federer, and was bested only by John McEnroe’s 42 straight wins in 1984. Perusing the article comments makes it clear that many people believe that only drugs can dramatically improve performance. It also reports that Djokovic also jettisoned other unhealthy food, so he is probably eating the paleo caveman diet described by Wikipedia:

The modern dietary regimen known as the Paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various human species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years duration that ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. In common usage, such terms as the “Paleolithic diet” also refer to the actual ancestral human diet. Centered on commonly available modern foods, the “contemporary” Paleolithic diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.


Cavemen painting, courtesy of Orin Zebest via Flickr.

Djokovic provide details of his diet in his book, Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence. William Davis, MD, author of Wheat Belly, wrote the forward. His book is summarized:

After witnessing over 2,000 patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic — and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health…. Informed by cutting-edge science and nutrition, along with case studies from men and women who have experienced life-changing transformations in their health after waving goodbye to wheat, Wheat Belly is an illuminating look at what is truly making Americans sick and an action plan to clear our plates of this seemingly benign ingredient.

Not only Djokovic, but all of us are allergic to gluten and other food we have eaten during the last 10,000 years. We’ve had insufficient time to evolve to adapt to many of our tasty favorites, including potatoes, rice, wheat, pasta, beer, dairy (ice cream, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt), and excessively fat meat such as duck and lamb. Some deny this reality and point out that the majority of Europeans have developed a tolerance to lactose, even as adults, that has allowed them to exploit dairy farming while Africans and Asians cannot process lactose. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, responds:

The many processed dairy products of the twentieth century are some of the richest sources of saturated fat in the typical Western diet. When you evaluate dairy products for fat percentage by calories, butter is the worst at 100 percent fat. Cream is 89 percent fat, cheeses average about 74 percent fat, and whole milk is about 49 percent fat. And most of the fats in these dairy products-about 60 percent-are the bad saturated kind. Despite their wholesome image, whole milk and fatty dairy products are some of the least healthful foods in our diets. Their saturated fats raise your blood cholesterol; they also raise your risk of developing heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

Robert M. Kradjian, MD of Seton Medical Center explains that milk is for babies and cow’s milk is for baby cows:

Milk is not just milk. The milk of every species of mammal is unique and specifically tailored to the requirements of that animal. For example, cows’ milk is very much richer in protein than human milk. Three to four times as much. It has five to seven times the mineral content. However, it is markedly deficient in essential fatty acids when compared to human mothers’ milk. Mothers’ milk has six to ten times as much of the essential fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. (Incidentally, skimmed cow’s milk has no linoleic acid). It simply is not designed for humans….

Clearly, our specialization is for advanced neurological development and delicate neuromuscular control. We do not have much need of massive skeletal growth or huge muscle groups as does a calf. Think of the difference between the demands make on the human hand and the demands on a cow’s hoof. Human new-borns specifically need critical material for their brains, spinal cord and nerves.

Some people believe that paleo humans were unhealthy, but this is a mistake. Paleo humans never died of heart disease or cancer or became as obese as Fred Flintstone. According to Cordain, modern high glycemic food is the culprit:

The “glycemic load” is the glycemic index of a food times its carbohydrate content. It is this high-glycemic load that elevates blood insulin levels in many people. High-glycemic carbohydrates cause large and rapid rises in blood glucose and have been implicated in a wide variety of chronic diseases-adult-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, elevated blood uric acid levels, elevated blood triglycerides (the building blocks of fat, which float around in the bloodstream), elevated small-dense LDL cholesterol, and reduced HDL cholesterol. This cluster of diseases is known to cardiologists as “Syndrome X.”

Fish for sale at Japanese market, courtesy of Malias via Flickr.

I tried the caveman paleo diet and confirm that replacing sugar and saturated fat with protein and fiber, combined with an hour of daily exercise, will reduce weight because you spend much time in the bathroom excreting waste as an alternative to storing calories as fat. Even better, it feels miraculous because the food is tasty and you don’t feel as hungry as when eating ordinary food. However, it makes it very difficult to shop because you must reject 80% of the food in the grocery store, and much of the acceptable food is expensive, such as seafood and beef fed with grass. And, it is even harder to eat in restaurants.

Djokovic diet is not a pure paleo regimen because he eats rice pasta primavera. Most people eating a paleo diet indulge in a few vices. White rice is unhealthy because it contains no nutrition, displacing nutritious food; brown rice and wild rice contain chemicals such as lectins and phytates that leech nutrients. Millions of lean Asians show that rice causes less damage than wheat and maize (corn).

The top woman tennis player, Victoria Azarenka, does not eat a Paleo Diet:

She works with a nutritionist to ensure she eats the right foods at the right times. Carbohydrates are mostly for breakfast or lunch, says Ms. Azarenka, who avoids processed foods. “Not too much ice cream or cake, which I love,” she says. “But I also love coffee and the nutritionist says I can have up to four cups a day.”

Ms. Azarenka has yogurt, fruit and cereal for breakfast, while lunch includes protein in the form of egg whites, fish, and meat, except pork, with rice and salad. Dinner is fish, or sometimes steak, with steamed or grilled vegetables.

Timing her meals during competition can be tricky, as the length of tennis matches is unpredictable and they are usually scheduled after one the other. If Ms. Azarenka is playing in a match that is expected to start around midday, she’ll eat breakfast, then a snack, such as raw nuts, dried fruit or rice cakes, before her match. If the match before hers drags on, she’ll eat a whole meal instead of the snack. For energy on court, she’ll consume energy gels or take bites out of an energy bar.

Paleo Dieters eat protein in the morning and consume fewer carbohydrates than most people. Coffee is a psychotropic drug that some Paleo Dieters take in limited amounts but decaffeinated coffee causes less damage. Cereal grains contain gluten that Djokovic and Paleo Dieters avoid. Rice does not usually contain gluten but Paleo Dieters avoid it. Yogurt is a dairy product to shun; cows during the Paleolithic era didn’t allow humans to milk them and humans are the only animal that consume dairy after infancy or from another animal. Paleo Dieters eat meat, including pork and steak, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, salad, and fruit, including dried fruit, although dates, raisins, figs, and orange juice are high in sugar and should be consumed in limited amounts. Paleo Dieters shun refined sugar and energy bars.

Aging basketball star Kobe Bryant is extending his career by eating a diet of Paleolithic food and butter produced by cows that eat grass, and he fights inflammation by taking ice baths after every game. Ice baths are not fun! His nutritionist stresses the importance of eating fat that contains nutrients; a common mistake is to minimize fat. Another athlete famous for performing well during old age, fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan, sells beef fed with grass. One of the primary benefits of natural beef is that it reduces inflammation by containing more Omega 3 oils than conventional beef fed with corn (maize) and grain. According to Ryan:

Studies have shown that grass-fed beef is higher in Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), as well as a better balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids compared to grain fed beef.

Government subsidize the unhealthiest foods such as wheat, maize (corn), and dairy. They also indoctrinate small children as young as 4 to believe that fatty food is unhealthy:

Traditionally, the family has been the key environment where young children learn to develop eating habits and food preferences. But once children start school, teachers and peers gradually become the greatest influence….

In a recent study of 4-year olds given structured nutrition lessons in preschool, the children were able to correctly answer that “high-fat foods are bad for you and make you fat” even 5 months after the lessons ended. These lessons were only 10-15 minutes long, and the information wasn’t reviewed during the 5-month period, so the children’s ability to retain that lesson long-term indicates their receptivity to simple nutrition messages.

In reality, salmon, avocados, nuts, olive oil and many other foods are high in fat and very nutritious. Government schools tell lies to children and parents who rent their children to governments are fools.

CBS Sports reports that after decades of eating the poor quality “food” promoted by governments, professional basketball players are adopting the Paleo Diet in droves:

For various reasons, players from different walks of the NBA life are making dramatic changes to their diets in the hopes of achieving their goals. In the case of Ray Allen, it’s trying to squeeze a few more 3-pointers out of his 38-year-old body. For 24-year-old Blake Griffin, it’s laying the foundation for a long, productive career. For Derrick Rose, 25, it’s the recurring nightmare of bolstering his body to recover from injury.

They all have slightly different approaches with the same purpose: to enhance health and performance through food. It’s a concept that makes too much sense, but one that players and teams have long ignored, thus neglecting the enormous wealth stored in the most important asset they have: their bodies….

“I think guys are becoming more aware,” said Allen, who began following a modified Paleolithic diet after the Heat won their second straight NBA title in June. “… When you start eating the salads and the proteins and fruits – in Whole Foods, I kill the fruit and vegetables section – you just feel so much fresher and cleaner.”

A Paleo-what? The Paleolithic diet — Paleo, for short — involves eating like our caveman ancestors did: lean meats, wild-caught fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar or processed foods. Its proponents call it the “anti-inflammatory diet” on the theory that avoiding processed carbs and sugars decreases inflammation in the body — the kind that causes joint pain and the kind that a growing number of medical authorities believe contributes to heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Related article and book:
Do you have a wheat belly?
Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back To Health

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