Tuesday, May 17, 2011

DAY 226 – Gluten-free Tennis?

Today on the blog, Busted Racquet, Chris Chase posts “Is Novak Djokovic’s new, gluten-free diet behind his win streak?”. Fortunately, this story is not just sexy tennis gossip; it is a remarkable opportunity for critically needed health education.

Last year Djokovic removed gluten from his diet. Since then he's made the final of the U.S. Open, won the Davis Cup and Australian Open, defeated Rafael Nadal four times, and is currently on a 39-match winning streak, the third longest of the Open era.

Is it possible that removing gluten from his diet, has improved Djokovic’s tennis performance? Yes.

Parts of Chase’s post need correction and/or clarification, and I have provided them below.

“A simple allergy test could have led to one of the most dominant stretches in tennis history.” – Determining gluten-sensitivity is often not as simple as a “simple allergy test”. Beware.

“... Novak Djokovic's nutritionist discovered last year that he was allergic to gluten ...” – Where was his doctor all this time?

“... Djokovic played it safe and cut out the starches altogether.” – I would say he played it "smart".

 “... a Cornell nutrition professor told The Wall Street Journal, the effects of the new diet could be more mental than anything.” – And Dr. Kristofer Young of Ventura, CA told his blog followers that given that many individuals experience increased physical endurance and performance when on a gluten-free diet, it is quite possible that Djokovic’s gluten-free diet has directly improved his physiology, rather than a placebo effect as suggested by the Cornell professor.

“The gluten-free diet didn't turn Novak Djokovic into a great tennis player. He was a Grand Slam champion and No. 3 in the world while eating the protein. The change may have turned him into a greater, more fit tennis player or it may have simply made him believe he was a greater, more fit tennis player. And, really, isn't that the same thing?” – No, they are not the same thing at all. Gluten-induced illness degrades both structure and function of the human body. Believing you are well, and being well, are not the same.

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