Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ultimate Diabetics - Playing and Training

Hey Folks,

I'll stick to some more training thoughts, but with a slight twist. As of late October I was diagnosed with type I diabetes. In retrospect, this was probably why I was drinking a tonne of caffeine to keep energy levels up while playing (see my coke advertisement post) and my diabetes was a factor in my cramping. I somehow survived with extremely high blood sugar throughout the Canadian University series, because I was pretty sure I had diabetes and didn't want to miss our championship run by being told to go to the hospital. Nothing like risking your life for Ultimate.

Anyway, I'm now back to normal controlling my blood sugar with diet, exercise, and the greatest Canadian invention - insulin. I've played in two low-level fun tournaments since the diagnosis, and I've been training regularly.

Pictured above: Weeeeeeeeeeee (courtesy of James at Massive).

So, with that introduction, the subject of my post is playing Ultimate as a diabetic. Maybe a more broader umbrella would encompass Ultimate players with diseases they need to control while they play Ultimate, and even broader how this applies to everyone. Well, here's some of what I've learned so far.

At 6:30 AM my blood sugar is about 4 (normal range 4-7 for all you normal pancreas folks). I'll have a 1 cup of1% milk before heading into the gym to meet the gang for our workout. This usually involves a mixture of 3o minutes of aerobic exercise + 1 hour or less of anaerobic exercise (currently weights 3 out of 7 days). After the workout and before breakfast my blood will spike up to about 6. This, I suspect, is an energy release by my liver to get fuel out into the system, because that milk is not going to support me.

The general lesson for all, as you've probably heard lots of times, is your body needs to recoup that released energy soon after a workout. The classic time quoted is about 30 minutes after your workout. Anecdotal support for this conclusion is after a workout I inject almost half the insulin I would on a morning without exercise. Otherwise, I go into a state called hypoglycemia because my body absorbs too much sugar in the blood, and my blood sugar drops below 4 and the brain starts getting stupider cause no sugar to run ;)

When I play an hour long game of hockey I take a similar approach with one carb unit (15g carbohydrate) before the game, and reduced insulin and increased carb intake afterwards. The basic premise for all bodies is that you need fuel before and after to keep the body working at efficient levels.

Now in a day long tournament I have had no success managing my blood sugar levels. Both tournaments I've been attended post diagnosis I've been both high and low throughout the day. The lows are on account of not enough fuel and too much activity, and the highs are due to eating too many high glycemic index carbs (mainly apples, bagels, and bananas - banana being the worse culprit).

I also read a blog by another diabetic who talks about his basketball games and how highs and lows affect his body and mind with respect to performance. I, personally, haven't felt this, but it makes some sense when you talk about low blood sugar and glucose as the fuel for the brain. I don't see the connection between highs other than you can get tired faster (but I'm never really high).

These challenges are reflected in everyone who plays a tournament even with proper self regulating energy system. Each player will experience focus and endurance challenges during a tournament day. What we all should be striving for is these challenges not to be related to poor diet decisions.

What we need is a tournament diet that keeps the energy in the system (and sodium + nutrients) for a full day of intense activity. I've got some more material to read through on the subject of elite performance for the diabetic, but I would be interested to hear from others with similar managing challenges (privately or publicly through comments) and how they manage Ultimate.

I still hope that one day a trained dietitian will join the ultimate ranks (hopefully to the level of contributor) and provide us with lots of summarized information on how to manage food and a tournament. I've approached both a local nutritionist and fitness trainer to join the ranks of my blog, but no success yet. If anyone out there (virtual world) fits the bill, it would be great to host an Ultimate focused question and answer type discussion.



Tom said...

Apparently they've managed to reverse type 1 diabetes in mice, so hopefully they'll eventually be ale to do the same in humans:

Also, there was an interesting article about diabetes in Men's Health recently. The article focuses on type 2 diabetes, and argues that most cases on type 2 diabetes can be treated with diet alone, but that the ADA's diet recommendations are bogus. I'm always suspicious of men's health's science reporting, but it's an interesting read:

Anonymous said...

i reccommend dropping by arthur de vany's site ( to sift through some very interesting and very challenging notions on diet.

Anonymous said...

PJ, you should try doing a little search for Gary Hall Jr., big meathead, but very fast swimmer - Olympic medalist actually. He was probably the lasiest (and goofiest) swimming medalist of all time, but he still has to do the minimum - which is a lot by mere mortal standards. If he can train for swimming at that level and be DT1, there's certainly got to be some literature out there. Heck, there's a "team Diabetes" that competes in Ironman Canada. Most of them aren't diabetic, but I'm willing to bet that there's some who are.