Novak Djokovic became the No. 1 tennis player in the world shortly after switching to a gluten-free diet, but admits he still occasionally misses chocolate, pizza and pasta on the grain-free regimen.
"Toughest for me was definitely [giving up] chocolate," Djokovic said at a U.S. Open press conference (via Tennis World Aug. 31). "[I also miss] pizza. You can have gluten-free pizza, but the regular one is better, I have to admit."
Djokovic, 26, has become almost unbeatable on the tennis court after eliminating gluten from his diet in 2010. The Serbian phenom said he made the switch after tests revealed he had a gluten allergy.
When he's not training, Djokovic occasionally indulges his taste for all kinds of delicious foods (including those containing gluten), but says following a grain-free diet most of the time brings out his best.
“Mentally, you’ll be fresh, you’ll be happier, you’ll be calmer," he said. "Physically, you’ll be stronger, faster, more dynamic. Your muscles will work better. That’s what I feel."
Novak is so enthusiastic about his gluten-free diet that he recently wrote a book, "Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence," detailing the diet's impact on his tennis game and overall health.
While many diet experts agree that eliminating gluten is a good idea for most people, Djokovic's top tennis rivals have slammed the diet as ineffective and faddish.
Reigning Wimbledon champ Andy Murray (ATP ranking: No. 3) said he eliminated gluten from his diet for a few months but gave it up because it left him lethargic and weak. Similarly, Rafael Nadal (No. 2) has dismissed the gluten-free craze as a fad diet.
But no matter what one's opinions are about the gluten-free diet, it bears noting that five of the six Grand-Slam titles Novak has won in his career came after he went gluten-free in 2010.
In 2011 (a year after eliminating gluten from his diet), Djokovic defeated then-No. 1 Rafael Nadal in all six of their encounters, including two Grand-Slam finals. He then seized the No. 1 ranking from Nadal that year, and has since maintained this position.
Meanwhile, Djokovic underscores that he's not encouraging other people to stop eating grains, but merely wanted to share his own experiences as a world-class athlete whose life has been radically impacted by a simple dietary change.
"I am not trying to influence somebody's life and tell the people how they should eat or live," he said. "I'm just sharing my own experience and hoping that people who are reading it can actually take some valuable examples and experiences to implement in their own life.
"To hear that somebody reading from my book felt positively, that there was a positive change in their life, is really nice to hear."
Grand-Slam wins to date:
Rafael Nadal: 13
Novak Djokovic: 6 (five won after going gluten-free)
Andy Murray: 2