Novak Djokovic: Gluten-free and Gumbyesque
July 6, 2013 2 Comments
The Wimbledon Championships end tomorrow, with the Gentleman’s Singles Final pairing now set: either Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray will raise the Championship Silver Cup by day’s end, barring rain delay or marathon tennis match…..
It has been another great fortnight of tennis, highlighted by Djokovic’s historic semi-final win over Juan Martin del Portro yesterday. Djokovic seems to get involved in these epic five-set Grand Slam matches, having just been on the losing end of such a match at the French Open. His opponent that day, Rafael Nadal, was quoted as saying: “‘I learnt during all my career to enjoy suffering, and these kind of matches are very special….I really enjoy suffering.” This statement was given, mind you, by the victor!
I remain impressed with Djokovic’s supreme athleticism and his ability to inflict suffering on others on the tennis court! It got me to thinking yesterday: what are the sources of his talents?
There have been interesting discussions of at least two of his singular attributes: his flexibility and his devotion to his gluten-free diet.
Commentators have had need to compare Djokovic with animated characters, as they can find no peer in the ‘real world’ who shares his superior flexibility: might he really be Gumby? There was a recent article in the NY Times that explores this facet of the Serbian champion: “Djokovic Bends and Twists, but Doesn’t Break.” Those interviewed speculate about Djokovic’s inherited laxity (one wonders what his Beighton criteria score is); they also note his intense devotion to stretching. Born or bred to bend: which is it?
For the readers who are looking for an excellent take on the controversies surrounding stretching as a means of injury prevention, I commend a 2005 review of the subject published in CJSM. Our journal has frequently looked at various aspects of stretching and its relationship to several aspects of clinical sports medicine: from reducing post workout muscle soreness, to improving (or worsening) athletic performance, to the subject of injury prevention. To stretch or not to stretch: the subject is one of the more controversial in clinical sports medicine. As ever, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and seeing your citations related to this matter.
Might Djokovic’s success be related more signficantly to his embrace of an even more controversial habit than stretching? Djokovic famously adopted a gluten-free diet prior to the 2011 season. Though Djokovic is reticent about discussing this diet, many have speculated about its connection with his endurance on the court.
There is no doubt, of course, that athletes with Celiac Disease require a gluten-free diet as part of their training regimen, in the same way that our athletes with Type I Diabetes will require special attention to their diets. The controversy lies in the issue of whether a gluten-free diet might boost performance in those who are merely ‘sensitive’ to gluten. Proponents of the diet note improved digestion, decreased ‘inflammation,’ and a general sense of decreased fatigue. Others attribute any improvements to a placebo effect.
I am decidedly neutral on the subject. As ever, I am most interested in what studies in peer-reviewed medical literature might reveal about the matter. I must say I have found it very difficult to find any quality studies: to wit, are there studies that investigate any performance benefits to a gluten-free diet in the athlete who does not have celiac disease. Please, if you know of any such studies, send them my way. I will take a look at them and possibly share what’s out there with this blog’s readership.
I look forward to my breakfast at Wimbledon tomorrow (with or without whole wheat toast, I’m not sure). I hope wherever you are and at whatever time of the day your broadcast of the the Djokovic v. Murray final occurs, you will enjoy it as well. See you again soon on these blog pages.