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.
Not only Djokovic, but all of us are allergic to gluten and other food that has entered our diets 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.
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.”
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, such as seafood and beef fed with grass, is expensive. And, it is even harder to eat in restaurants.
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.
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