If you watched last month’s Autralian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, you’ll remember the commentators banging on about the Serb’s extreme fitness levels. It wasn’t because he had the legs to last six hours against the notoriously ferocious Nadal. It was because just 43 hours earlier he’d battled through a five-set marathon with Andy Murray, while Nadal rested.
How does he do it? Once seen as the sickly child of the ATP Tour, in July 2010 a nutritionist performed a food intolerance test on the 24 year old and discovered that he should not be eating gluten. Since removing the troublesome protein from his diet, Djokovic has won four grand slam titles and become World No.1. He’s gone from being a very good tennis player to a great one.
So what can you learn from Djokovic? We spoke to elite sports nutritionist Matt Lovell to find out how to make sure you’re putting the right things in your mouth.
All the footballers say they eat pasta before a game. Why’s that?
For those who don't have a wheat intolerance, pasta is a perfect meal 2-3 hours pre-match. Other excellent sources of carbs are basmati rice, sweet potatoes, root vegetables and tropical fruits. But if you have an intolerance of any sort you may feel bloated or fatigued after eating. If this is the case, it’s worth finding out whether your diet is the problem.
How about porridge before a game on the weekend?
Porridge offers a great pre-match sources of carbs. You can spice it up a bit with cinnamon – berries and some goat’s yoghurt to increase the available carbohydrate sources, textures and flavours of this wonderful little meal. That said, if you have an intolerance to cow’s milk, you should be mixing it with water instead.
Do we really need to drink eight glasses of water a day?
That’s a myth. Although it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water, you can stay hydrated on tea, weak coffee, soups and other drinks and juices. You also get loads of water from the foods you eat – especially if you're eating plenty of vegetables and fruits.
Should we be eating fruit that's come from halfway across the world?
I prefer people to eat more of certain fruits when they are in season – but as berries are so loaded with nutrients I do use these all year round. Seasonal eating is encouraged for variety freshness and a lower carbon footprint – but be savvy about neglecting important nutrients for trendy reasons.
What’s the best think to drink after a game of five-a-side?
Chocolate milk is a decent recovery drink as long as you don't have an intolerance to cow’s milk and you’ve worked hard enough to have earned the sugars. It did better than a plain carb drink in one study - but this was sponsored by a milk company!
Meat can be really expensive but sporty people need it, right?
Not at all, you can of course play competitive sport to a high standard without meat – but in my opinion you would need to get a good cross-section of proteins from other sources such as fish, eggs, traditionally fermented soya (tofu, tempeh, miso) and plant-based proteins like lentils and chick peas.
And are biscuits okay for a quick on-the-go snack?
Biscuits are a source of energy – and some have a low GI – but they are not generally good for health due to their higher levels of poor fats and sugars. Oat cakes are a much better option.
Tips and Tricks
TEST: Work out which voids you should ditch by taking the York Test Food & Drink Scan
SNACKS: Swap your 4pm Coke and Mars bar for healthy snacks delivered by graze.com
BLOG: Matt Lovell blogs about sports nutrition at sportnutritionvlog.com