COMPETING IN SPORTS WITH PKU
by Annie Skidmore
In high school I competed in athletics for roughly 5 years covering most events but particular focus on sprinting and hurdles. This involved heavy training sessions and in summer I was training or competing nearly every day for either school or my club. As you can imagine this was hard especially with the PKU diet. I then turned to golf through playing with my dad I found a new love for the sport and started playing regularly. This again brought a new set of challenges with games lasting 4 hours and when playing away it would require a full day out. I still play now but my focus has now switched to the gym and keeping fit with home workouts and occasionally running. All aspects of sport and fitness have tested my PKU diet, and I have faced many challenges along the way.
CHALLENEGS I’VE FACED
When competing and training for athletics I found it hard to keep my energy levels up and with limited knowledge around the best way forward, it was a struggle. It required me to learn what was successful for me and what was not as there was little help available in the dietician/professional area. Therefore, I relied on an energy drink after training as I was so drained and when I had two sessions on an evening I had a snack usually a cereal bar in between to keep me going. I would usually have low protein toast before bed (if I were still awake!). This was hard at times as balancing school with training/competing was tiring but I loved the sport, so it was worth it at the time. I did find it hard to keep the energy levels up and regular food intake was key – especially as a growing teenager. After GCSE’s I stopped training and took up golf which required a different aspect of planning. I had switched from a fast-paced short duration event to long duration slow paced, which meant I needed to take on board food and alter meals accordingly to tee times and competitions (again being prepared was key!). I continue to play golf occasionally, but my focus is on HIIT and strength training which requires a different dietary strategy. I usually eat something small before then have a yogurt and fruit bowl with my supplement after exercise which works great! Over the years I have learnt to adapt my diet to the sport, but it definitely requires a lot of trial and error – so don’t worry if you don’t always get it right I certainly didn’t!
MY TOP TIPS
- BE PREPARED: again, this is important for all aspects of the diet, but it is important especially if you are travelling or competing away that you have all the supplement and food you will need – often there is limited choice at sporting venues.
- EAT LITTLE AND OFTEN: regular intake of food and drink will help you to keep PKU levels low and energy levels high to optimise your performance.
- STRUCTURE YOUR FOOD & SUPPLEMENT INTAKE: if you know when you will be training/competing make sure you have eaten enough time beforehand for the food to digest and remember to refuel after exercise. Supplements can be taken as you would a protein drink after exercise to aid repair and recovery of your muscles.
- FUEL UP BEFORE & AFTER EXERCISE: this is key to a successful performance or training session. You need to have eaten before exercise so you have the energy to perform and for long duration sessions high sugar foods may have to be eaten in rest periods to top up energy stores. After exercise, it is important to refuel and restore your energy levels – low protein products are great for this e.g., pasta, toast or even yogurt and fruit.
- REGULARLY HYDRATE: this is important to everyone. Regular intakes of water will stop you becoming dehydrated and will help regulate your fluid intake. It is key to the PKU diet to keep hydrated especially around supplement ingestion.
- REST: from my time spent training and exercising I have found recovery and rest is essential and I personally feel I require more than others and ache more than others. This is okay but it is important to recognise this and rest accordingly.
I hope this has helped you to understand the challenges you may face around sports and exercise whilst educating you on how you can manage PKU effectively to optimise your performance – and don’t forget to ask for help if you are struggling!