Novak Djokovic's experience with Kinesiology

How many people can say they have truly experienced a life-changing moment. It happened for the tennis player Novak Djokovic, who was competing in the Davis Cup in 2010. The competition was being held in Croatia that year which enabled Djokovic to attend a consultation with Dr Igor Cetojevic, a nutritionist, Kinesiologist and fellow Serb.

 

The two were first connected during the 2010 Australian Open. While watching Djokovic on the TV in his home in Cyprus the doctor, flicking through the television channels. At his wife’s suggestion (even though he had no interest in tennis) they watched Djokovic’s quarter-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Djokovic was ahead two sets to one against the Frenchman. Following a toilet break it became obvious to the Doctor that Djokovic had suffered one of the physical crisies that were common knowledge and happened on a regular basis. He returned to the court after a bout of violent sickness, his breathing was laboured and his energy levels had obviously been depleted. His condition resulted in the Frenchman coasting to victory.

Cetojevic suspected what ailed the tennis star and was causing his symptoms, might be an accumulation of toxins in his intestines, caused by an imbalance in his digestive system. He believed that the main cause could be some foods that he was eating.

Dr Cetojevic, is a Kinesiologist and explained to Djokovic that he would like to used muscle testing to check his suspicions.


“Cetojevic told Djokovic to stretch out his right arm while placing his left hand on his stomach. The doctor then pushed down on Djokovic’s right arm and told him to resist the pressure. The strength Djokovic would feel in holding firm, the doctor said, was exactly what he should experience.”

“Next Cetojevic gave Djokovic a slice of bread. He told the bemused player not to eat it but to hold it against his stomach with his left hand while he again pushed down on his outstretched right arm. To Djokovic’s astonishment, the arm felt appreciably weaker.”


Following the use of this muscle testing (which some may consider crude) Cetojevic told Djokovic that it was as he suspected. The fact that Djokovic was unable to maintain a locked muscle in the presence of the slice of bread indicated that the problem may be a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.

Subsequent blood tests showed that Djokovic was strongly intolerant to wheat and dairy products and mildly sensitive to tomatoes. Being told to stop eating bread and cheese and cut down on tomatoes was not the best news for someone whose parents owned a pizza restaurant, but the open-minded Djokovic was willing to give it a go.


Bread and pasta are staple foods in Serbia, but Cetojevic asked Djokovic to try a new gluten-free regime for two weeks. The effect was immediate. Djokovic felt lighter and more energetic and slept better than he had ever done. When Cetojevic suggested after a week that he should eat a bagel, the negative impact was startling. Djokovic felt sluggish and dizzy, as if he had a hangover.

When he switched permanently to the new eating plan, the benefits quickly followed. Within 12 months Djokovic was 11lb (ca. 5 kg) lighter and feeling stronger and healthier. Ever since following the regime, he has felt fresher, more alert, more energetic and mentally sharper.

The resulting increase in his performance exceeded anything that he had been able to achieve by changing trainers, coaching methods, nasal surgery or taking up meditation.

From this starting point he became the world’s number one player 12 months later and has maintained that position ever since.


The Serb tennis star was reluctant to tells his story but now in a remarkable book, Serve To Win, he reveals how a Kinesiology tested diet has transformed his health and tennis.

Djokovic believes the diet has made him more level-headed and less anxious or prone to anger, though other routines have also helped in that respect. He never skimps on sleep and always tries to go to bed at the same time, between 11pm and midnight, before getting up at 7am. He uses yoga and meditation and believes in “positive thinking”.

 

If it seems extraordinary that a change of diet could so change an athlete’s life, Djokovic’s example has been followed by plenty of others. Several other tennis players have gone on to similar regimes and many tournaments now offer gluten-free and dairy-free food.

Among the physical problems Dr Davis says eating wheat can cause are ulcerative colitis, acid reflux, abdominal stress and rheumatoid arthritis. He also says it can contribute to paranoia, schizophrenia and autism. He says that eating wheat “has the potential to cripple performance, cloud mental focus, and bring a champion to his knees”. Djokovic knows exactly what he means.

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