Tennis Player Evolution

“Robert, thank you for helping to transform the sport tennis for the better.”  — Arthur Ashe

“Robert Haas and I are, in a sense, pioneers in a new field of knowledge that I believe will make sports history.” — Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova, eating to win Nancy Lieberman and Robert Haas

Martina Navratilova: One of our first eat-to-win meals together

While I was in college, I thought I understood the fundamentals of healthy eating. That didn’t work out so well for me. I developed severe hypertension and other health problems and was rejected from military service because of my poor health. I began studying nutrition to save my own life.

After several years of intensive scientific study and applying what I learned to my own diet, I noticed remarkable improvements in my athletic endurance and physical performance on the tennis court and while running track.

I began applying my discoveries about diet and supplementation with varsity athletes who enjoyed similar improvements in their own athletic abilities. I had discovered a number of secrets of peak performance, a phrase that I popularized in the 1980s with my #1-bestselling book, Eat to Win.

Sports nutrition counselingAt my sports nutrition clinic at Turnberry Isle Yacht & Racquet Club in Aventura, FL, I began working the some of the world’s best tennis players. It wasn’t unusual to see such elite players as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Nic Saviano and Vitas Gerulaitis training at Turnberry in those days because many owned residences there and some came to train with the resident pro and Aussie champion, Fred Stolle.

As word of my sports nutrition breakthroughs spread among the tennis elite, I found myself traveling almost full time to such tournaments as Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French open while advising players who would become world champions. I also began to develop sports nutrition supplements and sports drinks for my clients to help fuel their record-setting victories and careers.

If you’re old enough to remember watching Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova as they each dominated professional tennis, then you probably saw them drinking my magic potions during changeovers between games.

As my sports nutrition practice grew, elite athletes in all sports around the world began to follow my advice. George Foreman, Emerson Fitipaldi, Danny Sullivan, Joe Montana, Florence Joyner-Kersee, Jack Nicklaus, Joe Montana, Ron Sey and many others discovered how to eat to win.

Athletic celebrities, including Woody Harrelson, Glenn Frey and Don Johnson discovered how effective my advice was in helping them get in shape and stay in shape. Don inspired a new wave of haute coutre with to his newly ripped physique when I worked with him during his Miami Vice days. The impact of my research and work, however, played a more decisive role in changing men’s and women’s professional tennis than in any other sport.

 Forward Thinking Led To a Number of Historic “Firsts”

Robert HaasI was the first nutritionist to popularize the then embryonic science of sports nutrition.

When I began my career, few athletes and coaches understood the enormous benefits of personalized sports diets and sports supplements. My sports nutrition revolution, a term I coined to get the sports world to pay attention to my message, first challenged and then gradually changed the conventional wisdom followed by the pros at that time. 

I was the first nutritionist to devise personalized, sports-specific diets that were also based on an athlete’s individual biochemical needs as reflected by changes in his/her blood chemistry profile.

To this day, my groundbreaking book, Eat to Win: The Sports Nutrition Bible, remains the only diet book to recommend personalizing one’s diet based on changes over time in one’s blood chemistry. My advice has helped allow athletes to compete well past the expected retirement age for their sport.

I was the first sports nutritionist to use urinalysis to determine a player’s level of hydration. When I began, I used specific gravity of urine as a biomarker of hydration. Today, I use osmolality to devise personalized electrolyte-replacement drinks in order to scientifically hydrate my clients and prevent them from suffering declining performance, cramping and heat stroke during competition.

I was the first nutritionist to promote a team approach to bringing tennis players to their highest levels of peak performance. Initially, I was criticized by some players, their coaches and the press for encouraging the “coddling” of tennis players.

Fortunately, beloved ATP trainer and Tennis Hall-of-Famer, Bill Norris, recognized the value of what I brought to tennis (“Robert Haas makes my job easier,” stated Norris) and was instrumental in getting some skeptical players, including Jimmy Connors, to at least consider embracing my sports nutrition plan (full disclosure: Jimmy’s wife, Patti, was a client of mine).

Today, it’s standard operating procedure for top players to use the approach I pioneered by taking advantage of a support team of sports nutritionists, trainers, and coaches who work together for the sole purpose of keeping their player healthy, fit, properly nourished and at the top of their game.

Centre Court at Wimbledon coding a match for Martina Navratilova.

Centre Court at Wimbledon coding a match for Martina Navratilova on an early laptop computer.

I was the first nutritionist to use computer technology to analyze the diets and the match play tendencies of pro tennis players.

At that time, Chris Evert was Martina’s arch rival and my computer analysis of their matches revealed critically important information about both players’ tendencies that neither could have been aware of without such analysis.

My forward-thinking approach met with derision and Martina Navratilova was unfairly castigated by the Luddites in the press as some type of “automaton” or “cyber athlete” simply because she followed a science-based training regime.

The implication was clear: using cutting-edge nutrition science and computer technology was perceived as giving an unfair competitive advantage to other athletes who didn’t take advantage of science and technology. Martina laughed all the way to the bank and into history.

Martina was even accused by some detractors of using steroids because of the well-toned, natural appearance of her vascularized muscles and because of her total domination of her competition. In their minds, it had to be the result of drugs, not diet!

After Arthur Ashe spoke out publicly and praised my approach, the controversy gradually gave way to widespread acceptance among coaches and their players. Today, no champion makes it to the top without using at least some of the sports nutrition principles I developed and the team approach I helped pioneer.

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