Tennis star Novak Djokovic has been on a stunning 43-match winning streak since eliminating gluten from his diet last year. Djokovic has credited the dietary switch for radically improving his tennis game and health.
“If you can mentally overcome this greed and eat only the food that is good for your metabolism, then you will have the best results, not just in tennis but in life as well,” Djokovic told the June 2011 issue of Vogue.
“Mentally, you’ll be fresh, you’ll be happier, you’ll be calmer. Physically, you’ll be stronger, faster, more dynamic, your muscles will work better. That’s what I feel.”
Last year, Novak, 24, hired a nutritionist and was tested for food intolerances, which indicated he was allergic to gluten. Since then, Djokovic has followed a high-protein, gluten-free diet and has been dominating on the tennis court. Novak now avoids most starches, including pizza and pasta.
But the proof is in the (gluten-free) pudding: Since overhauling his diet, he has defeated his chief rival, Rafael Nadal, four times, made the finals of the U.S. Open and won the Davis Cup and the Australian Open.
The naturally thin 6’2″ Djokovic has also lost some weight and now hovers at 176 pounds. “I am very skinny,” he admits. “[But] I am fast and very powerful on the court, so this is what matters.”
Indeed, Novak is about 10 pounds lighter than his main rivals: The 6’1″ Nadal (ranked No. 1) weighs 188 pounds; Roger Federer (No. 3) is 187 lbs. at 6’2″ and the 6’3″ Andy Murray (No. 4) is 185 pounds. While tennis is a power game, Djokovic seems to have lost none of the strength from his ultra-lean physique.
Djokovic, who’s on the verge of overtaking Nadal, 24, for the top spot in tennis, is working hard and enjoying life in Monte Carlo, where he lives with his Serbian girlfriend of six years, Jelena Ristic.
The gorgeous Ristic, 25, a former human resources manager, has an economics degree from a private university in Milan and is currently getting a master’s at the University of Monaco.
“She’s been a great support to me,” says Djokovic. “She’s been the source of energy. Of love. It’s something that keeps me going.”
Another thing that keeps Novak going are his loyal fans. “When we get on the court and the crowd cheers your name or salutes you—it’s like you’re a gladiator in the arena,” he says.
“And everyone is cheering—and you’re fighting, you’re screaming, during your strokes—it feels like you’re an animal, fighting for your life.”