Some tennis stars say gluten-free is best for them

PARIS Thu May 26, 2011 12:20pm EDT

Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns the ball to Victor Hanescu of Romania during the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris May 25, 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns the ball to Victor Hanescu of Romania during the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris May 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Thierry Roge

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PARIS (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic says his unbeaten run is due to his special, gluten-free diet and now Sabine Lisicki hopes she too will benefit in the long run after discovering she is intolerant to gluten, a protein in cereal grains.

German Lisicki was on the verge of upsetting third seed Vera Zvonareva in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday but, with the finishing line in sight, she crumbled on court and had to be carried off on a stretcher sobbing.

On Thursday, the 21-year-old explained why her health had suddenly deteriorated.

"I am sad that my body let me down. Doctors recently discovered that I am intolerant to gluten -- meaning I can't eat e.g. pasta, one of my biggest energy sources," Lisicki, who was seen munching on a couple of bananas on Wednesday, said on her website (

"My body needs to adjust to the big change and needs some time. It is good that we found out and it will only make life better in the long run."

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, and in products that contain these grains or their derivatives.

Pasta and bread were once staple food items for top athletes as they were the most important sources of energy. Athletes on gluten-free diets need to find substitutes for their old standbys.

Serbian Djokovic, who is on a 39-match winning streak in 2011, changed his diet nine months ago after his nutritionist carried out tests and established he was intolerant to gluten.

Like Djokovic, Lisicki's body cannot cope with many carbohydrate products and she will need to find substitute food items so that she can find the energy to last the distance in three-set matches.

The new diet has definitely paid off for Djokovic.

"I have lost some weight but it's only helped me because my movement is much sharper now and I feel great physically," Djokovic, who has beaten Rafa Nadal in four finals this year, said recently.

The gluten-free diet is necessary for people who have celiac disease. It has been gaining in popularity among the general public, but doctors warn that people who eliminate gluten from their diet can also lose out on important nutrients.

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Comments (3)
kt31 wrote:
It’s a fallacy to state that gluten-free is low carb. It CAN be low carb – but people who are gluten free can eat rice, corn, potatoes, buckwheat, quinoa, uncontaminated oats, and many other sources of carbohydrates. Just because you can’t eat regular pasta or bread, it doesn’t meant you’re eating low carb. For some perspective, consider the diets of east Asians or Central/South Americans – not nearly as much bread as Europeans or Americans, but plenty of carbs.

Sorry to see this common misconception mentioned here as if it was a fact!

May 26, 2011 10:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
EmilyCF wrote:
I am also disappointed by the insinuation that eating gluten free necessarily means you do not get carbs. As kt31 said, people who eat gluten free can have all kinds of carb-rich foods other than those made from wheat, barley and rye. Pastas, breads, cookies, etc can all be made gluten free. It is true that people eating gluten free should consult with a doctor or nutritionist to make sure they have a well-round diet, but this is also true for people who go vegan or vegetarian. Our diets are only as healthy as we make them.

This is yet another article in a long string of inaccurate, somewhat sensationalized media portrayals of the gluten free diet. Please be more careful in your research next time.

May 26, 2011 4:18pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
rocky778 wrote:
As a celiac, I’m disappointed in the misinformation above. If nothing else, Ms. Lisicki can load up on GF rice pasta such as that processed by Schar, Mrs. Leeper,or many others. Also,to suggest that her body must adjust to the new diet is misleading. Her body was adjusting to the gluten for the previous 20 or so years. It finally could no longer sustain her “normal” diet; she had become very malnurished due damage of the villi of the small intestine caused by a reaction to her “normal” diet. Now that she is going gluten free, she can begin healing. Her body is celebrating, not adjusting. She can never eat ANY gluten again if she wants to feel great, be energetic, free of pain, and restore the normal nutrition to her body. The collapse mentioned above was not due to what she didn”t eat(GF food), but to what she had been eating most of her life to this point. As Djokovic has impressively demonstrated, a gluten free(GF) diet allows reversal of the damage caused by his prior diet, and given him the indurance he lacked early in his carrier. There is practically no recipe that can’t be adapted using a gluten free substitute. There surely is a learning curve to shopping, eating in restaurants, and food preparation at home. Once you learn, you can still pig out as in the old days.

Jun 01, 2011 9:53pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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