How Novak Djokovic, the greatest man tennis player changed to gluten-free and plant-based diet
Why did Novak Djokovic choose gluten-free diet?
My diet hasn’t just changed my game, it’s changed my life, my well-being. And if I feel better, that obviously transfers to my professional life. Eating vegan makes me more aware of my body on the court. I removed toxins from my body, and with them went all the inflammation and other things that were messing with my energy levels."
Novak Djokovic, the greatest man tennis player of all time, believes his extraordinary success has to do with the change of his diet.
Growing up in a small village in Serbia, Novak Djokovic was passionate about tennis since an early age, inspired by Peter Sampras, the legendary American tennis player, and decided to be a professional tennis player.
Djokovic began his professional career in 2003. He did everything to be in the best shape for his beloved tennis: weight lifting, biking, running and doing stretches, day in and day out.
At age 20, he interrupted Roger Federer's and Rafael Nadal's streak of 11 consecutive majors to win his first Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open. By 2010, Djokovic also separated himself from the rest of men's tennis to join Federer and Nadal in the Big Three, the group of three players who have dominated men's tennis for more than a decade.
But the glory of his victory was also shadowed by his on-going sufferings: from mind fog to fatigue, to respiratory problems. Djokovic tried to improve health with every thing he could think of: apart from his daily exercise routine, he tried yoga and meditation, he even had nasal surgery to help him breathe. But his physical health did not improve drastically, and the ultimate manifestation of his health problem was his dramatic collapses on the tennis court, such as his collapse during his first US Open, playing against Gael Monfils, and then during an Australian Open match in January 2010 he collapsed again while playing against French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It made Djokovic feel low both professionally and personally.
Fortunately, an alternative therapist from Serbia, Djokovic's home country, Dr Igor Cetojevic, was watching him play and saw him collapse. Dr Cetojevic guessed that food was the reason why the tennis player couldn't breathe well, so he reached out to the tennis player.
The two met in July 2010. Cetojevic suggested that Djokovic eliminate gluten from his diet, which meant no bread, no pasta, no pizza, favorite food of Djokovic. After a few weeks on a gluten-free diet the determined and disciplined Serbian tennis player cut down on sugar, and then cut out dairy.
Months later, Djokovic was transformed. He lost weight, was sleeping better, had more energy, and felt stronger.
In 2011, Djokovic was ranked No. 1 for the first time, winning three out of four majors and a then-season record of five Masters events. He remained the best player in men's tennis for the rest of the decade.
What does Novak Djokovic eat in a day?
In 2014 Novak Djokovic wrote a book about his transformation: Serve To Win, the 14-day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence.
In the book, he revealed what he eats in a day, and below is a sample of his three day meals.
Breakfast: Water first thing out of bed; two tablespoons of honey; muesli (including organic gluten-free rolled oats, cranberries, raisins, pumpkin or sunflower seeds and almonds)
Mid-morning snack (if needed): Gluten-free bread or crackers with avocado and tuna
Lunch: Mixed-greens salad, gluten-free pasta primavera (including rice pasta, summer squash, courgettes, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes and optional vegan cheese)
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: Water first thing out of bed; two tablespoons of 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 niçoise salad (green beans, cannellini beans, rocket, tuna, red pepper, tomatoes and canned chickpeas), tomato soup, roasted tomatoes
Breakfast: Water first thing out of bed; two tablespoons of 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.
In May 2015 Novak Djokovic launched the DJOKOlife range of nutrition products that reflect Novak’s food philosphy and include seed biscuits, crunchy toasts with rice flour and oats, honey and sesame seed bars, fruit and cereal bars and a vegetable drink.
Djokovic, who practices a plant-based, gluten-free diet, recently opened a vegan restaurant Eqvita in Monte Carlo, where he and his wife live. He attributes his professional success to healthy eating.
“My wife and I have experienced an evolution in food and have actually seen how much it has influenced our well-being for good, and we wanted to share that passion with all the people in Monte Carlo,” says Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic's change to plant-based diet
A few years after his gluten-free diet, Novak Djokovic decided to go plant-based.
“I’m very pleased that I am plant-based and play on this level for four and a half years.”
“It’s a lifestyle. More than just a diet because you have ethical reasons as well. Being conscious of what is happening in the animal world and you know the slaughtering of animals and farming and everything."
“There is obviously a huge impact as well on climate change that people maybe don’t talk about as much. It’s more than a performance for me, it’s a lifestyle. Something that I’m really proud of and hopefully that community grows,”
On 10 April 2016, Novak Djokovic opened his own vegan restaurant in Monte Carlo, where he and his wife live, to share his passion for food that has transformed his health and professional career.
Novak Djokovic's parents used to be in the restaurant business for over 26 years, and in 2008, he opened a restaurant Novak Café & Restaurant in Belgrade with his family. So he is not completely new to this venture. But unlike traditional Serbian cuisine which is heavily based on red meat and bread, everything in Eqvita is 100% organic, plant-based, with zucchini lasagna part of the menu.
Eqvita is more than a restaurant. It's a concept. A story. A love story to be precise. Pretty much a personal one, since I share it with my Jelena."
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