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Novak Djokovic’s mid-match drink stirs internet speculation
His trainer’s efforts to hide the beverage's ingredients raised questions about its legitimacy.
Published Nov 08, 2022
The video has gone tennis viral. During the finals of the Rolex Paris Masters, somebody recorded a member of Novak Djokovic’s camp sitting courtside surreptitiously whipping up a drink, that was subsequently delivered to Djokovic on a changeover. Conspiracy theories are running amok that the concoction contained “special” additives that wouldn’t be found on a Gatorade label.
While it’s fair game to speculate—the guy did his level best to obscure everything he was putting in the bottle—it’s highly unlikely the beverage was anything more than Djokovic’s personal blend. Since pros can be battling on court for several hours, sometimes in hot and humid conditions, they need more than just Poland Spring to replenish their reserves and maintain performance. It’s quite common to see them chugging unidentified, often brightly-colored liquids during changeovers. And sometimes it has to be mixed on the spot.
“It’s very normal,” says Dr. Mark Kovacs, Ph.D., a performance physiologist and researcher who has worked with numerous elite players. “If a match is going long or that’s their schedule, most players over the course of the year do what Djokovic did multiple times. It’s just like racquet strings. How many times do they hand a racquet mid-match to the ball kid?”
Professional athletes, especially meticulous ones like Djokovic, will have their drinks catered to their personal needs. They’ve done testing on their sweat profiles and other bio markers during extended exertion to determine what works best to stay hydrated and energized. It’s a way for players to find an edge, but hardly nefarious.
“This did look weird,” says Kovacs. “But they could’ve been trying to hide a product they’re not sponsored by, or simply didn’t want anyone to know what’s in the drink. It could’ve been one of a thousand ingredients, but in Djokovic’s mind that’s his secret weapon.”
So what goes into these drinks? Although individualized, most have common denominators:
- Fluid or water-based that’s easily potable.
- Electrolytes: Typically, the beverage will have a high sodium composition, as it’s the primary electrolyte lost through sweat. Magnesium and potassium are also considerations.
- Carbohydrates: Since the general recommendation is consuming carbohydrates for exercise that is longer than 60-90 minutes, nearly all players have them in their drinks. It can be any combination of quick-releasing and slower digesting carbs. The amount recommended is between 30-60 grams per hour of exercise.
- Caffeine: Stimulants are often included, caffeine being the most tested and popular. The research on caffeine has been shown that it is not a diuretic (like once thought) in relatively low/medium doses. If they’ve gone through a caffeine tolerance assessment to know when and how to best dose it, many players will use the stimulant at specific times throughout a match.
- Amino Acids: While not shown to improve performance, amino acids are sometimes included as they may have some impact on an athlete’s post-match recovery.
- Protein: Similarly, protein does not provide many benefits in match situations. However, like amino acids, it can play a role in muscle recovery.
- Alternate Energy Sources: Whether beetroot juice, plant extracts or other natural sources—remember deer antler spray?—athletes are always looking for a boost. However, most alternatives have little research data supporting their performance benefits.
This did look weird. But they could’ve been trying to hide a product they’re not sponsored by, or simply didn’t want anyone to know what’s in the drink. Dr. Marc Kovacs, Ph.D.
For the everyday player, there are many worthy over-the-counter electrolyte-based sports drinks such as Gatorlyte, Precision Hydration, Biosteel and EFS First Endurance. If you’re looking for a healthy homemade sports drink, Kovacs recommends this simple recipe that he uses with many of his athletes:
- 2 cups coconut water.
- 2 cups water (or more, based on how strong you prefer the flavor to be)
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon juice works as well)
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt or real salt.
- 2 tablespoons raw honey (or maple syrup)
Just be sure to mix it before you hit the courts.