is a sport with short bursts of anaerobic exercise with frequent
periods of less activity. The energy expenditure of fencing is very
variable depending on the fencer’s style, with some having a lot of
body movement and others relying on reach with less trunk movement.
During short fights (typically up to 5 hits) during the pool stage of
competition, matches are short, and paradoxically, as with squash and
judo, blood glucose may rise. During training, with coaching or
prolonged fights (up to 15 hits) a steadier fall in glucose is seen.
Because total glucose use is lower than with aerobic sports, there is
much less risk of hypoglycaemia.
Diabetes and Fencing
By Libby Payne
have been diabetic for less than two years and the first thing everyone
said to me when I told them I had been diagnosed was, ‘Its okay, you
can still go fencing’. Which demonstrates how much they know I love my
sport. After taking close to two months off to learn about diabetes
and to finish my final university exams, I tentatively ventured back
onto the fencing piste.
I was expecting to be in constant danger of hypos due to the activity but found that in fact my sugar levels tended to rise, particularly when competing where they could get up into the high teens. Following exercise my sugar levels would drop dramatically and to ensure I was safe driving home I would eat a snack, usually a muesli bar, which seemed to work well.
Fencing is a sport that combines anaerobic and aerobic elements and when fencing short bouts it is mostly anaerobic meaning that glucose stores are not used up and as such sugar levels do not fall. The stress of competing also seems to have an effect and can raise sugars even before the competition has started.
I am currently taking 20 units of Glargine in the evening and between 4 and 12 units of novorapid with meals. I train 2-3 times a week in the evenings and compete at the weekend at least one a month. My training has intensified since I was first diagnosed and as a result I find that I now have to take care when training not to have a hypo. Training usually consists of a short warm up and footwork session followed by fencing bouts against the other fencers throughout the rest of the evening. These training bouts usually last until one fencer has scored 15 hits and can take anything from 5-10 minutes. Usually two bouts are fenced in a row and then a rest is taken whilst waiting for another bout. In an evening I will usually fence between 2 and 8 bouts and sometimes have an individual lesson from one of the coaches. These lessons last at least ten minutes sometimes longer if there are fewer fencers wanting lessons. Lessons are very intense and unlike a fight which stops after each hit is scored lessons can be almost continuous with just a few short breaks to explain what move with be practiced next. During training I regularly test and if low I will take a bit of sports drink or glucose tablets. This works relatively well but at times I can have high sugar levels following training so a bit of fine tuning is required to prevent the highs and lows and maintain a steady blood sugar level.
Competition DaysCompetition days are always long as it is usually necessary to be at the venue by about 10am and sometimes this could be three hours drive away. Fencing will actually start at about 11am with all the fencers present being split into poules of 6 or 7 fencers. Everyone fences all the other people in their poule once, the bout finishing when three minutes of fencing time have elapsed or when one fencer has scored 5 hits. This can take anything from an hour and a half for a small poule or up to two and a three quarter hours for a larger poule of 7. After this I usually eat lunch and as my sugar levels are usually slightly elevated at around 11 or 12 I give more insulin than I usually would with my food to bring the levels down and prevent them rising later in the day when I start fencing again.
About an hour after the last poule has finshed the next stage of the competition takes place. The results from the poules are collated and the fencers are ranked. The competition organisers by eliminate up to 20% of the competitors at this stage. The rest of the fencers will compete in the direct elimination stage where the highest ranked fencer will fence the lowest ranked fencer and so on until there is a winner. My competitions usually have about 80 people in them meaning that an incomplete round of 128 will be fenced which I frequently manage to avoid. This means that the break between fencing can be anything from one to two hours. Fights in the direct elimination stage are fenced first to 15 hits. There are three periods of three minutes with a one minute rest in between. If the scores are tied at the end of the fencing time then an additional minute will be fenced. Before this final minute a coin will be tossed to decide which fencer has priority and if no hits are scored in the minute they will win, though this happens only very rarely. From the last 64 stage the eventual winner of the competition will have fenced in 6 of these bouts. Sadly I only ever do about three or four before being beaten and thus eliminated from the competiton. During this time my blood sugar can rise into the high teens or low twenties if I haven’t given enough insulin at lunchtime. It is hard to judge how long it will be until you next fence so giving a lot of insulin could be risky. At times I have tried to give an additional injection with a small snack if sugars are high between fights, but each time I have been called to fence before this has had time to act meaning the sugars are still high for the fight and then fall dramatically afterwards. Fencing will usually be over by about 5 or 6pm. Before driving back I ensure that I have had a snack or that my sugars are still at a normal level. If the journey is long I will stop to make sure that they have not continued to fall to low levels.
I’m still very much at the experiment stage and have yet to find an ideal routine, particularly for competition days. Nonetheless the gaps between activity mean that I am able to constantly monitor what is happening with my blood sugar and am able to take action where necessary.