Having had two recent speaking engagements I have been very impressed to have met a number of young lads that are keen footballers living with type 1 diabetes, it is a passion I can very much relate to from my own childhood.
This post is up to tell a few of my football playing tales and hopefully provide some advice on control of blood glucose levels whilst playing in the beautiful game.
Diabetes Control Whilst Playing Football
I was once a little boy that would kick a ball – or anything that could represent a ball, around the house, back garden or down the road on the way home from school relentlessly. To begin with playing in the Bexley D League for Crayford Arrows I was a left back in defence. As a newly formed side we took beating after beating 6-0, 7-0… 10-0 – we didn’t hit the ground running to say the least! The important part in relevance to this post is the fact that 1 year earlier I was in hospital and left to wonder whether I would ever be able to participate in sports again after diagnosis to type 1.
A year on and I was a regular in the team – no matter the score-line!
On one particular match where we were suffering a defeat an incident occurred where I just had a moment of madness, the shakes and shivers were taking place but I was doing my best to ignore the symptoms of a hypo (low blood sugars)and play the game… and then the ball trickled under our goalkeeper and as it made its way towards the goal line I managed to get there… and poke it in. I had lost all concentration and had scored an own goal despite intending to clear the ball! Somewhat embarrassed I hung my head in shame and dropped to my knees. And then held my head… not in shame but because I was suffering a hypoglycemic. I had to be substituted to test my sugar levels which were in the 3s and then had to treat the hypo.
In playing at Left Back I was running up and down the same side of the pitch, mainly keeping on my toes – therefore burning gradual energy. A more slow-release carbohydrate energy breakfast or perhaps dinner the evening beforehand would have been the better diet. If hypoglycemia do persist in football games for you (check regularly before a game, during half time and after is my advice to realise this) then it may be worth lowering the quick acting/bolus rate of insulin in the mornings with breakfast by a unit.
Having said this I found that low blood sugar levels are something quite rare during a game of football and far more likely to take place within a few hours after finishing the game.
The Adrenaline Effect – Hyperglycemia in Football
As time progressed so too did my abilities in the game. I was always full of self-belief and determination when it came down to a match-day – an exact attitude to earn success by my books. I had moved in a central midfield role and was very useful, mainly through my level of energy and stamina to control a game in the middle of a park.
I found that in playing in that position I was constantly on the move, regularly involved with the game. I felt this could make my levels drop more rapidly; however, found a different aspect. If a hypo level did take effect during the match, it would take place as soon as the final whistle went. There were one or two scenes of drama after battling for a win (as I believe you should always give absolutely everything when playing) once the referee blew up for full time. Instead of going for the handshakes on a few occasions I just crashed to the ground. I had given everything and it was adrenaline keeping the affects of low blood sugars off until my services on the pitch were no longer required after full time – then the affects would occur. This was a unique and fairly rare outcome, but something very serious to be dealt with nonetheless.
My advice in this situation is: do not let diabetes hold you back. If you love the game go and play your heart out and make the most of playing it. As soon as that whistle blows though be responsible and prepared to get a blood sugar check in as soon as possible.
The main result which I found personally was the complete opposite though. In coming off the pitch the most regular blood sugar test result I would find on my levels was that actually I had shot upwards to a hyperglycemia (high blood sugars)!
How could that be possible after running around and burning so much energy!!??
The answer is the adrenaline effect. In the center of midfield I would be constantly on the move, but in different paces – I was here, there and everywhere to be honest. I would move away from markers with quick bursts of sprints for every throw-in, I would rush back to defend our goal whenever the opposition attacked, I would be right up there in the other end of the pitch on the attack whenever we broke forward – sudden changes in pace repeatedly throughout the game.
More so, I had a successful trial with semi professional standard Dartford FC at Princes Park. For Dartford my role on the pitch was more attacking, usually slotting in behind the strikers. I found that being more attacking meant furthermore sudden bursts of energy – I could be lightly jogging waiting to be brought into play and then ZOOM, sharply running onto a through ball in a sprint.
I found my Blood Sugar Levels to quite often register highs of 20.0 or above after a game. A level which actually represents more difficulties to keep full concentration, something required when playing football.
It was the sudden changes of pace which created this Adrenaline Effect. The body reacts to it, as it doesn’t know how to handle the sudden changes in endurance, and therefore creates its own glucose meaning that a hyper level may take place.
If this is the case for you going by your own regular occurrences in blood tests, a method I adopted of counteracting this is by actually taking a unit or two more of my long acting background insulin, basal rate (personally Levemir), even injecting this separately an hour before kick off. This is a slight risk to take and with diabetes control it is very much trial and error at times, but I did find my levels to finish at more 14.0 than at 20.0 – a little more healthier and stronger for keeping concentration.
If the adrenaline effect does take place and those levels are registering higher than normal it is also crucial to remember that you still have burned energy through the day. The adrenaline effect is temporary and there is a high chance that your Blood Sugar Levels will come crashing down within a few hours. My advice is to test regularly after the match and get a good dinner down you, potentially even with a unit less than needed in your bolus, within the next 1-2.5 hours – a big old Sunday Roast should do the trick!
In having type 1 diabetes I would like to end this on a positive note. It did not hold me back from winning League Titles, earning Player of the Year and Managers Player Awards, from being successful standing out in two higher level standard trials and even in playing against professional level opposition in my youth years.
So always be responsible but go and get stuck in there too Junior Diathletes – I salute you!