SoCal League Tennis

Diet Is The Key To Success For Top Athletes Like Djokovic

By Lisa Thomas

It is well known that Novak Djokovic adheres to a vegan diet and that his efforts over the last few years to change the way he eats have paid off in spades.  It may then not be so surprising that the champion tennis player has recently also removed red meat from his diet.  As we come into spring it is as good a time as any to work out what makes most sense for our diets.  What gives you energy and enables you to have stamina?  Should you be reducing your red meat intake, cutting back on sugar, or eating more vegetables?

Martina Navratilova spends a lot of time refining her diet and has been a vegetarian for most of her storied career. Other athletes like all-time great sprinter Carl Lewis and Ironman Dave Scott review and refine how they eat so they can be at their best. Both Lewis and Scott are vegetarians and have been for years.

You have to wonder, how do champion athletes who need so much energy to perform, operate so well on a limited diet?  Many of those athletes suggest that they have more energy when they pass on meat and some dairy products.  They will also tell you that it was through trial and error that they landed on what works for them.  If you dig around a little it becomes pretty clear that a lot of athletes and performers – like Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers – have rethought their diets to leave animal products behind.

A vegetarian or vegan diet seems to work well for some people but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone.  The point that Djokovic makes when he talks about his diet change is that going vegan was right for him, but that doesn’t mean it is going to do the same for others.

What we know does help as we come out of our winter hibernation in Southern California is to take a good hard and honest look at our diets and eating habits.  We all know that good nutrition is one of the keys to good health.  We can improve our nutrition with a balanced diet of food with a lot of vitamins and minerals like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and low or non-fat dairy.  For many of us during the winter months, even here in Southern California we tend to eat higher quantities of food and let a little more sugar, perhaps fat and more carbohydrates sneak into our diets.

Even small changes in our food choices can improve our health considerably.  We don’t have to go full on with a new vegan or vegetarian diet.  The key is choosing healthy foods and eating in moderation in a way that works best for you.

Here are a few suggestions from that can help to improve your eating habits:

— Find the strong points and weak points in your current diet. Do you eat 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day? Do you get enough calcium? Do you eat whole-grain, high-fiber foods regularly? If so, you’re on the right track! Keep it up. If not, add more of these foods to your daily diet.

— Keep track of your food intake by writing down what you eat and drink every day. This record will help you see if you need to eat more from any food groups (such as fruits, vegetables or dairy products) or if you need to eat less of a food group (such as processed or high-fat foods).

— Almost everyone could benefit from cutting back on unhealthy fat.  Bake, grill or broil food rather than frying food.  Be careful about the amounts of butter you use on bread, sour cream you put on your potatoes or dressing you use on your salad.

— Be aware of the sugar in drinks.  Read labels and avoid sweetened fruit drinks, soft drinks and sports drinks.

— Make a habit of reading the nutrition labels on your food.  Get familiar with what the labels are really saying.  The FDA has a comprehensive guide to understanding food labels.         

xThink about asking for help from a dietitian, especially if you have a medical problem that requires you to follow a special diet.

Athletes like Djokovic, Martina and Carl Lewis have the resources and support to systematically analyze their diets to maximize their performance and well-being.  Just the fact that they regularly critique and change their eating habits is suggestion enough for us that we too should look to change it up.  It is clear that good nutrition plays a big part in how strong, healthy and energetic we feel. If you want more energy, if you want to feel more clear headed and have the stamina you need to get through the day then review your diet and start to make some small changes to get you on your way.

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4 Responses

  1. I am 60 years old, I have been a semi-vegetarian most of my life and now
    morphing into a vegan. I have not felt better than now, not even during my 30s or 40s. I play tennis 3 to 4 times a week, singles not doubles, and aside from plantar fascitis and tennis shoulder, I have no ailments and take none (as in ZZZERO) medication. I attribute this primarily, though not completely, to my Vegetarian-Vegan diet, the rest to luck and genetics (though my dad passed away at 59 and my older brother at 54);

    There is a lot of poor and fake information about food nutrition and diet. The trick is to find what works for you best. For me, it’s being vegetarian.

    Lastly, if you just stop and think about this for a minute you will realize that consuming meat is not healthy. What happens to a dead cadaver when we die, we get eaten up by worms. If you leave raw chicken out for a few a days, it will get eaten by maggots. So, when you consume the dead body/tissue/muscle mass of animals, they decompose inside your body and these maggots and worms turn into rogue cells and therefore cancerous. Think about that next time you drive thru In N Out burger !

    • Keep up the good work, both with your regular tennis and an approach to nutrition that is working well for you.

  2. I don’t believe Novak is a Vegan. He is gluten free.

    • Thanks for your follow-up. You’re right he seems to be very dedicated to being gluten-free. Apparently he is unwaveringly disciplined and avoids sugar, dairy and red meat. He is a good example of someone who has taken a strategic approach to nutrition and how it impacts his performance.

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