About 18 months ago, McCraw started noticing symptoms of extreme lethargy in young players he was working with.
“They were presenting chronic fatigue symptoms, although they weren’t diagnosed in a traditional way, in terms of blood markers — everything would come back reasonably normal,” he said.
“Athletes would be complaining of excessive tiredness, even after light sessions. During a normal daily activity it was fine but then as soon as they began to exercise their blood sugar levels would drop significantly, and that causes concentration-behavior issues, (problems with) focus, emotional control.
“By the normal standards these were healthy teenagers and players in their early 20s, but they weren’t healthy.”
McCraw, who has held top coaching and development roles in his native Australia, New Zealand, Israel and at the Nick Bollettieri academy, works with players from age grade to elite level.
One of his clients had been seeing Everard to treat his celiac disease — an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten intolerance that attacks the walls of the small intestine and makes it difficult for the body to absorb and process the nutrients that it requires.
Everard says that while only 1% of people are gluten intolerant, more than half of his clients are sensitive to it — and 93% of them have seen benefits from eliminating gluten from their diet.
The improvements increase even further when processed sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup are taken out of the equation, says McCraw.
You might think bread and pasta are healthy foods, but essentially they break down into sugars like a chocolate bar does — and this is not an energy source that human bodies evolved with.
“We’re really designed physiologically to burn fat, it’s what our body is designed to do. Shifting the major energy systems from sugar to fat is the transition you go through when you take a gluten-free option,” McCraw said.
The first step in treating problems with gluten is to stop eating grain-ba
sed foods for at least four weeks, says Everard, but not — especially for high-performance athletes — to eliminate carbs altogether.
“We educate the patients about consuming gluten-free ancient whole grains. These include amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, uncontaminated organic oats, quinoa, sorghum, teff and rice. This gives the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) a chance to start repairing itself.”
It needs help, and probiotics will aid restoration of the stomach’s healthy bacteria and digestive enzymes, and also protect against further damage, Everard says
“The research and my clinical results have found the GIT is weakened when we are exercising, especially in hot conditions and leaves the body susceptible to illness,” he adds.
“The lining of the gut is very sensitive to the intense heat that endurance athletes train under. My patients have often complained of cramping in the gut, diarrhea or nausea and an increase in colds and flus after competitions and intense training.
“As the body heats up, small cracks form in the intestinal wall, allowing bacteria into the blood stream. We monitored our patients and found that when they did extensive exercise 82% showed symptoms of gut discomfort, reduced tolerance to the heat or a decrease in immune function.”
In the case of Djokovic, who clinched a record third successive Australian Open title on Sunday, he had to give up childhood staples such as pizza, pasta and pancakes while introducing more vegetables and rice, fruit and sushi for easily digestible protein.”At first, it was difficult for him but he was fed up of being stuck in third place and his determination to be the champion combined with his confidence in my knowledge was all the motivation that he needed to change his diet,” says Cetojevic.