US Open, Flushing, New York. September 2014.
My pick for any Grand Slam is easily and always my boyfriend, Rafael Nadal. However, since he pulled out of the tournament this year due to a wrist injury, I had to feel out the other competitors to see who I wanted to get behind.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center yesterday. I walked around the grounds in Flushing to check out some of the rising young junior talent on the side courts, as well as the mature veterans battle it out in Arthur Ashe during the Quarterfinals.
Aside from the heart they bled out on the courts, I couldn’t help but gape in wonderment at their physiques, energy, and stamina in the sticky NYC heat and the blaring sunlight that reflected a blue tint on their faces from the court surface . . . as I sat there a sweaty mess debating if it was too far of a walk to get the $7 Evian face mist to keep me from falling into heat stroke.
So, with the Murray v. Djokovic match taking place later that night, and with Novak having just won Wimbledon, I admit I was rooting for Murray to advance to the Semis. However, once the second tie-breaker was done and seeing Djokovic wipe the court with Murray in the third and fourth sets, I have set my sights on a new man – Nole!
You don’t have to be a tennis fan to be truly amazed at his performance and conditioning. However, if you were watching the same match five years ago, the outcome probably would have been different. Why? Because Djokovic wasn’t gluten-free!
You ask, how does being gluten-free have anything to do with tennis? Well, prior to changing his diet and eliminating gluten-containing foods, Novak thought his career and success were fleeting. He didn’t even think he belonged on the same court as his opponents. He was plagued constantly by chest pain, stomach spasms, asthma, injuries, and fatigue. He could not depend on his body to provide the consistent, healthy performance for which he tirelessly trained. Just as he was rising to the top of his game, symptoms that anyone would attribute to physical exhaustion and the stress and rigor of a professional athlete’s lifestyle would pull him right back down. But, those factors weren’t the cause – gluten was.
In his book, Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence, Djokovic explained, “There was something about me that was broken, unhealthy, unfit. Some called it allergies, some called it asthma, some just called it being out of shape, but no matter what we called it, no one knew how to fix it.”
Sound familiar? In fact, most people suffer with symptoms like this for years without a doctor even thinking to look at food intolerances or digestive issues. Luckily, mainstream practitioners are even catching on and accepting this as truth today.
So, why would avoiding gluten (or other allergens) make such a difference in his tennis game? Or in anyone’s health? Let me break it down for you.
Did you know that 80% of your immune system resides in your gut? Eighty percent. That’s a lot, no? You have what are called Peyer’s patches, which are small regions of lymphatic tissue, that are woven throughout the lining of the small intestine. They form an integral part of the immune system by monitoring the food that comes through your digestive system for any harmful bacteria. Say if you eat some produce that inevitably has bacteria on it from the soil, or a piece of chicken that is not 100% fresh, Peyer’s patches will sense this and trigger the immune system to create pathogen-specific antibodies to target that bacteria and kill it before it can go anywhere in the body outside of the gut and make you very sick.
Now, how does a food intolerance occur? Well, the diet most Americans (and I guess, Serbians) eat tremendously damages the lining of the small intestine in which the Peyer’s patches do their work. Normally, when the lining is healthy, smooth and in tact, nothing slips through the cracks and reaches the patches other than microscopic bacteria.
However, with a damaged gut… gaps, holes, and tears start to develop and then pieces of digested food can slip down to the patches. Once this happens – Game, Set, Match: Allergen.
Your immune system then starts making antibodies that are now food-specific (remember, they are supposed to be pathogen-specific). Your body now sees that particular food protein in the same way it saw that harmful bacteria riding down on that piece of spinach. So, if you eat this food regularly, your immune system thinks it constantly needs to make antibodies. It then doesn’t know which end is up and starts to not only attack the food, but healthy tissues that were minding their own business, as well. This leads to systemic inflammation – something I’m sure athletes and their trainers do not want for themselves. In Nole’s case, inflammation manifested itself in the forms of asthma, sinus issues, fatigue, constant injuries, and terrible mood swings on the court.
By avoiding the perpetrators, Peyer’s patches can take a breather, and you can allow your gut and immune system to relax, heal, and do their normal jobs correctly – not work overtime or fulfill someone else’s responsibilities. See, everybody should have a mandatory two week vacation – not just people in Finance.
So, in essence, if you let your gut heal completely (which can take up to two years), and then adapt to an ideal diet, you should be able to eat those foods again. In essence. You should know by now that things aren’t ever this simple.
There are other things that irritate and damage the gut lining aside from gluten and other allergens: sugar, stress, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, pollutants in tap water, preservatives, unhealthy oils, heavy metals, grains, unsoaked/unsprouted seeds and nuts, excessive amounts of starches, too much fiber, lack of sleep, eating in an unrelaxed state of mind, etc. The list goes on.
This is why it is so important to adopt a consistently healthy, balanced, varied, clean diet so that you are not bombarding your body with things that it has to work hard to overcome. If you give it the fuel it needs to a greater extent than the things that will damage it, you tip the scales in good health’s favor.
If you are thinking of doing an elimination diet, here are my recommendations:
First and foremost, work with an experienced health practitioner who specializes in this. I wouldn’t try it on your own, as you could be missing a link. Naturopaths, Chiropractors, and Clinical Nutritionists are your best bet. They also have access to the best types of allergy tests that your insurance can cover and will capture everything you need to know before you get started.
Avoid the foods to which you are highly allergic completely, 100%, for a few months. Then ask yourself if you are noticing a difference after about four months. Any difference is progress in the right direction.
Avoid common irritants (gluten, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts) as much as you can during this time as well. If they’re not on your high allergen list, it’s okay if you slip up on occasion. You will definitely notice a difference with this step.
Rebuild your gut lining through fermented foods (kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir), bone broths, and gut-building supplements that a practitioner could recommend. I wouldn’t go out and buy any probiotic or glycine, etc. in a health food store. It could be unnecessary and a waste of money if you don’t know what to target. Practitioners also have access to the most effective, cleanest supplements.
Maintain a healthy diet and stress level as much as you can. You don’t have to be nuts or stringent about it, but it should be a lifestyle choice. You will undoubtedly notice a long-term difference with this step.
And until Rafa’s back, LET’S GO NOLE!!!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to message me if you want to hear more or less about topics I’m covering – I’m open to suggestions!