Gluten Free Diet Plan for Beginners
Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help Your Game of Tennis?
After Novak Djokovic's amazing win at Wimbledon and talk of his gluten-free diet, a number of you have asked if tennis players should be considering a diet free of gluten.
It is important to note at the outset that we don't know exactly what Djokovic's problem with gluten was or is.
Traditionally, only individuals diagnosed with coeliac disease were put on a gluten-free diet. Since then we often hear of actors, models and people in the public eye (usually females but not always) going on a wheat or gluten-free diet resulting in weight loss and an increase in energy.
A large number of doctors and dieticians have simply put this down to a fad and placebo effect but of late scientific literature and hospitals are beginning the look at this subject in more detail with a more sympathetic view to the existence of gluten generated problems in patients that do not diagnostically qualify as being coeliac (referred to as 'gluten sensitivity').
Certainly I have seen a number of clients myself who find a significant reduction, if not complete elimination, of gastrointestinal distress (bloating, pain and/or flatulence), joint pains, headaches and 'brain fog' by following a gluten-free diet.
Brain fog is often described as mental lethargy, an inability to analyse or understand anything quickly and feeling mentally 'out of it'; similar to feeling jet-lagged.
Quite often patients with these kinds of symptoms and medical tests that come back 'normal' are just told to live with it as that's 'what aging is all about'. Unfortunately the impact of certain foods on overall health, immunity and general well-being is not understood by many in the medical community but it is important for you to note that feeling great the majority of the time, physically and mentally is achievable at any age.
Back to tennis and Djokovic's amazing run of wins. You may have noted that Novak's mental focus has been phenomenal. There is no doubt that mental training was and is a huge part of his coaching program but I have come across something very interesting linking gluten to problems in the brain!
A paper published in Annals of Neurology in 2008 describes a 'new to science' brain aggravating enzyme, which is triggered by reactivity to gluten, but acts independently of other coeliac symptoms. These substances may alter mood as well as co-ordination and a loss of balance!
So, what is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in most grain like rye, wheat and barley. It's the substance that helps make bread elastic. Oats in general do not contain gluten (although some studies are now looking at different varieties of oats which may cause problems for individuals with gluten sensitivity) however due to farming techniques there is a significant risk of cross contamination with other gluten-containing grains so oats are often eliminated in a gluten-free diet.
This means that breads, pasta, cakes, biscuits, couscous and many ready-made foods need to be avoided as they may well contain small amounts of wheat flour.
Should all tennis players avoid gluten products? Most definitely not!
Should all tennis players cut down on gluten products? Absolutely!
Why? Simply, because we eat too many of these products. Quite often a tennis player's lack of energy and low immunity can be due to something as simple as not eating a large enough variety of foods.
I'm sure you've all heard it said that 'we get all the nutrients we need from food if eaten in the correct quantities'. Let's assume that this is correct (even though it's not!), you definitely will not get all the nutrients your body needs in any given day if you eat gluten containing foods 3-5 times a day — something that I've often seen.
Ultimately, the only way to maximise your intake of all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need for your sport is to eat as many different foods as possible each day. Eating a cereal based food just once a day and then finding other starches such as beans, rice, root vegetables, quinoa or the like will ensure a much more varied intake of nutrients on a daily basis.
For those of you who are sensitive to gluten, a number of gluten-free products are now available in supermarkets, although not all are as tasty as the real thing.
Now back to Djokovic. Did gluten have a negative impact on his brain? Who knows but certainly the removal of gluten from his diet coupled with his mental training turned him into a real champion.