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 :–)

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  1. daniel bowles says

    this is a great article any more information you could give would be helpful,ive taken a month off,but was weight training i am on the same insulin as you and was wondering do you take insulin with energy drinks or are they to stop hypos?
    i find my sugars rise after a session which is normally 30-50 minutes long with no cardio at the moment(i was a ameateur powerlifter 10 years ago and have had diabetes 7years
    i am 40.
    i am also thinking of taking up mma type training as a route to fitness.
    i know deadlift training seems to hit me hard the next day and am aware of hypos through that.
    it’s just the whole physical thing
    a great blog any other posts please feel free to contact me

  2. Jonathon says

    Hi i have only been dignosed for 6 weeks now and i am finding it to be a disapointment at times any advice ?

  3. Andrew Cross says

    Great to see cyclists at this level with type 1 diabetes. I am a type 1 roadie on the insulin pump. I cycle about 150 – 250 miles a week. Though since being on the insulin pump I have found that I have better control on the bike.
    I am looking into taking my cycling further with endurance and racing. This year I am hoping to do a 24hr ride, either the le mans in Aug or the London to Brussels 24 hr at the end of Aug.
    Keep up the great work Barney, would be good to chat to you sometime about cycling and Diabetes.

  4. claire says

    Would like to say a big well done and it just goes to show it should never stop you doing what you wish to do. Big inspiration. Well done. :)

  5. gary cutts says

    hello Barney
    Its always great to hear about fellow diabetics succeeding at professional sport. (similar to Gary Mabbutt a few years ago). It helps diabetics, especially younger ones, to realise that there is nothing to hold them back. I’m 43 and have been type 1 since I was 12. Always enjoyed sports. In the last 5 or 6 years, i have started doing a lot of cycling and noticied the same things as you, with the sugar levels. My levels can be affected in different ways, especially, as you say, my levels can go higher than expected when i do a ride, and can go low, a day after riding.
    Great to read about your experiences.
    Good luck

    Gary Cutts

  6. Derek Clark says

    A good read for anyone juggling blood sugar management, excersize and food intake. As a cyclist with type 1, I too am still learning the ways to get the best control out of a constantly changing situation. Keep at it!

  7. Kevin Munro says

    A good read.. I am currently training for a 300 mile mountain bke for Diabetes UK in Dec 2012. My daughter is 12 years old and been T1 for a year and it is great to come across a positive article like this. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Michele says

    Your an inspiration to many people, I commend you for showing that there is life after being diagnosed with diabetes thankyou

  9. David Jagger says

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. My son is 7 and was diagnosed at 18 months. It great to know you can do the things you want to without h on diction taking over your life

  10. Jenny woolridge says

    Great article … Had T1 since I was 3 (48yrs) have always had the attitude that it fits in with me and what I want to do, although as your article suggests it can be trying at times to get the control even for none athletes. This comes from parents who have a positive attitude to the condition from the start and I would encourage any parent with a child with T1, to encourage their child to pursue their goals… No matter what they are.
    Well done and goidxluck for the future

  11. Pete matthews says

    Hi. Barney. Read with interest , your article on coping with sport and Diabetes . I have been diagnosed with HYPOGLCEMIA , for some time now, BUT haven’t been able to get PROPER dietary advice. I eat pretty well the same as your diet, but struggle on the bike if I attempt to try and go FAST!!.I am going to get a blood test machine ,which I hope will help. My Blood sugars go down as low as 2.5 in tests where I am only sitting in the hospital. Any help would be appreciated ,or details of anyone who could help in any way . Best Regards . Pete Matthews.

  12. Timothy Cronin says

    I am not sure if this helps but I found taking Protein shakes before training allowed me to train for double the time. It helped keep my sugars more stable while training without driving them up to high .

  13. Rich says

    Hi Barney

    Great write up helpful. Do you weigh carbs and if so could you let me know many carbs you have per meal please? Ive been bodybuilding, running and mountain biking for the last 3 years or so but really want to concentrate on running, mountain biking and road biking. I have the problem of balancing my insulin dose and carbs and seem to tire easily after an hour or so normally cos my sugars are high or are starting to drop. Any training/diet advice would be very helpful. I eat every 2 hours at the moment but it is quite a high protein diet

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