Want to win Wimbledon? Go gluten-free?

June 28, 2019 7:03 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Service! But what’s on the plate?

Does going gluten-free help athletes?

If you’re Novak Djokovic, four-times Wimbledon champion, it could be a breakfast bowl of gluten-free porridge oats, mixed up with nuts, seeds and almond milk. If you’re two-times champ Andy Murray, well, it’s likely to be porridge again, but made with ‘normal’ oats and dairy milk. Two men – two giants in the world of tennis – and two different approaches to diet. Let’s take a closer look.

Quiet, please

In 2014 Novak Djokovic published a book Serve to WinThe 14-Day Gluten-free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence. In this book, he charts his gluten-free diet, which he credits with a massive improvement in his physical performance. He is certain that eating gluten-free got rid of his allergies, alleviated his asthma and cured his chronic fatigue, transforming his play. (It’s worth pointing out that he’s also dairy-free.)

Since he started avoiding gluten, he’s been fitter and happier than ever. He eats lots of vegetables, along with gluten-free pasta, enjoys cashew nut butter, stuffs himself with quinoa and makes sure to take in plenty of lean protein, like salmon and chicken.

Advantage, Djokovic?

It doesn’t work for everyone. Inspired by Djokovic’s new regime, Andy Murray gave it a go. For him, it was a ball straight into the net.

“I tried it for a couple of months and felt awful. I lost all my energy and felt so weak. I didn’t feel it helped me at all, so I just went back to do doing what I did before.”

And then he won Wimbledon.

Match point


Why would a gluten-free diet work for one and not the other?

If you’re intolerant to gluten, the immune reaction triggered by eating it can prevent the proper absorption of the nutrients contained in your food. You’re likely to become increasingly tired and lethargic and to suffer from nutrient deficiencies. In these cases, removing gluten will have a huge, positive impact.

If, however, your body has no problem with gluten, then eliminating it from your diet actually risks taking away a source of nutrients (especially protein and fibre).

Both Djokovic and Murray can access the most up-to-date nutritional research and advice; both have carefully tailored their diets to get the best results for their own bodies. There couldn’t really be a better illustration of the fact that listening to our own, individual bodies’ needs, is the best way to champion health.

Armchair tennis?

Most of us aren’t athletes, of course, but there’s been a growing trend to claim that eating gluten-free is a good energy-booster for everyone. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – a man who hasn’t yet cracked the international tennis circuit – famously believes that transforming his diet to gluten-free made him less sluggish.

“I have more energy; I feel better, sharper, healthier.”

As noted above, however, it’s important to be sure you’ve got a good reason to eliminate gluten before doing so, and to take expert advice before making any move. The Coeliac UK website is a great place to start if you’re concerned that you might be intolerant to gluten: it has a handy self-diagnosis checklist, which you can complete prior to a proper medical consultation.

Serving a nutritional ace

If you do end up removing gluten from your diet, it’s vital that the alternatives you choose are healthy and high in nutrition. You’ll need food that’s rich in fibre and protein (both elements that are sometimes missing from pre-prepared gluten-free food), and in all the minerals and vitamins you need to keep you in top condition (important if you’ve previously suffered from depleted levels of vitamins, due to gluten-intolerance). In particular, make sure you’ve got the B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D and iron covered – as well as plenty of antioxidants.

The very best sources of all these elements are wholefoods: pulses, complex carbohydrate grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Oats, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are all great, naturally gluten-free whole grains.

This is especially true if you’re taking part in exercise. When you cut out gluten, you frequently end up cutting out carbohydrates too. But for athletes (and anyone exercising), energy-dense, carbohydrate-rich foods are essential. To keep your energy levels high, you’ll need to find plenty of naturally gluten-free sources of carbohydrate, such as potatoes, squashes, yams, rice, quinoa, millet and pulses. More processed food can come in handy too: Naturally Good Food has a wide selection of gluten-free pasta, noodles, bread and similar mixes.

Whether you’re eating gluten-free or not, a varied diet gives us all the best chance of hitting nutritional targets. A gluten-free diet consisting only of pre-prepared supermarket ‘alternatives’ isn’t going to do you any good. But neither will a diet that’s overly focused on wheat-based bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes and snacks. You don’t need to be a diagnosed coeliac to start incorporating some of the wealth of naturally gluten-free foods into your diet.

Game, set and match

For easy access to gluten-free food – natural, organic, in bulk, and at the best possible price – simply wait until rain stops play, and then take a look at Naturally Good Food’s comprehensive gluten-free range. We’ve been helping real, and armchair, athletes for years. We sell gluten-free food to those who are diagnosed coeliacs; to those who aren’t, but find that it helps anyway; and to those who’ll happily eat gluten, but want to make sure they’re not missing out on anything!

Naturally Good Reads v2


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This post was written by Yzanne

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