Racing on the GB Cycling team with diabetes – by Barney Storey
I’ve been on the Great Britain Cycling team as a full time athlete for 10 years and always feel privileged to be in this position. The last 10 years have really given me different challenges to deal with, and one of these challenges is operating within British sport with diabetes. It is something I have never allowed to get in the way of my performances.
Having been diagnosed with diabetes aged four, my parents were very much responsible for not allowing this to be any barrier when it came to sport. There have been several changes of opinion regarding diabetes in sport by doctors over the last 30 years and I am very glad to say it is now encouraged amongst those with the condition.
I always test my blood sugar levels a lot, as when fatigue sets in with your training it can sometimes be quite difficult to feel what level your blood sugar is in your body. Testing more frequently is something I have changed over the last 10 years, but I feel this really makes a difference in knowing you have consistent control.
Predicting how training affects your blood sugar levels is the next area I have learnt about over the last 10 years competing at Elite level sport. Certain types of training can affect blood sugar levels differently, so when I am sprinting on the track in competition or training I can experience higher predicted blood sugar readings, which come from the hormone response with adrenaline going into my system. When endurance training for rides between 30 minutes and up to four hours, there is the steady burn of energy and the constant need for fuel just like any normal person. Adding the two types of training together becomes tricky and can result in the production of a cumulative effect. For example, the body can react with a drop in blood sugar from the previous day’s training, which makes dealing with diabetes a challenge at times!
Experience comes into play with managing your blood sugar levels, as you have to be flexible with the insulin you inject into your body to stabilise levels. This may sound complicated to manage with all of these varying factors, but I always look at this as a challenge and not something which will ever hold me back from competing in my sport.
The main area which I have really worked on in the last 10 years has been my diet, to make sure it includes good healthy nutritious foods. I’ve tried to make sure there is always a slow release of carbohydrate into my body throughout the day. Plus, I try to limit the amount of sugar within my diet unless it is necessary to control blood sugar levels. I am lucky to be an Ambassador with CNP, who are the official nutritional supplier to the Great Britain Cycling team and have a variety of different energy and protein bars. This allows me to mix these different types of bars into my diet, some of which are low carbohydrate and some high. Here is a typical summary of my food within a day when I am training:
Breakfast – Porridge with sultanas sprinkled on top, black coffee, small glass of fruit juice, CNP Pro-vital vitamin tablets. The porridge is a perfect breakfast meal with slow release qualities and really good for stable blood sugars. Some cereals do have a lot of sugar in and this is why I opt for porridge – with sultanas for my sweet tooth! :–)
Mid morning snack – CNP Energy Bar or CNP Protein Flapjack (CNP website for information). The type of bar really depends on what training I am doing in the day.
Lunch – Brown bread sandwich with some cheese or ham and salad, an apple, plus a protein bar.
Mid-afternoon snack – CNP Energy Bar or CNP Protein Flapjack.
Post Training – CNP Protein shake Propeptide (this is a shake without carbohydrate, just protein so it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels).
Dinner – A typical dinner must include carbohydrate and protein, so perhaps a jacket potato and a meat such as steak, plus vegetables or salad. Then some fruit with some yoghurt.
Before Bed – If training has been hard then a pre-bed snack is good: this can be determined by the type of training carried out in the day.
I drink throughout the day a combination of water/ squash/ coffee and energy drinks depending on training levels.
I use the Insulin Novopen, with a combination of Novorapid insulin (after each meal) and Levemir insulin (before bed). The levels really depend on training and quanitites of food. I have a Theraputic Use Exemption certificate which allows me to compete in international cycling events, so if insulin is registered in a test sample, it is totally legal. In the last 30 years the awareness of diabetes has grown and certainly in sport there is a greater understanding of the condition.
A good diet and a good understanding of what your body is doing is really helpful to keep good control. It’s something I have a better understanding of than 10 years ago, with predicting what your body will do and allowing the correct food levels and balancing this with insulin levels. I certainly feel my diabetes is well controlled and doesn’t get in the way of trying to achieve success on the bike for my country :–)