Managing type 1 diabetes is hard enough at the best of times, but especially when you’re getting punched in the cage.
That’s the position 22-year-old Kevin Kellerman finds himself in. Having recently packed in his day job to focus full time on becoming a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, the Canadian isn’t willing to let his type 1 diabetes hold him back.
Kevin was diagnosed with the condition aged three, and upon beginning MMA training as a teenager he quickly learnt how the demanding sport – which involves punching, kicking, wrestling and a tonne of other frightening moves – affected his diabetes.
He told Diabetes.co.uk: “Believe it or not I don’t find it too challenging to manage my blood sugars and train MMA. I don’t dwell on the fact that I have to do it.
“I love the sport so I just accept of the challenge of having to manage my blood sugar and train and get on with my life.”
‘Best decision of my life’
Kevin, born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada has been training in MMA for seven years; fighting for five years as a bantamweight (135 lbs).
He won his first amateur championship in September 2015 but lost it four months later having been blighted by high blood sugar before and during the fight.
“It was by far the best decision of my life,” he said. “The insulin pump gives me so much more control over my blood sugar, not only during training but in everyday life.
“The continuous glucose monitor has been amazing too: being able to check my blood sugars in training within two seconds has been a huge benefit, and being able to stop lows and catch highs before they happen is great.”
On June 18, 2016, Kevin won his debut professional fight and attests his improved management as a key reason for his performance – he achieved a second-round knockout.
The role of adrenaline
Kevin works with a team of professionals to ensure his diabetes is well-controlled, including an endocrinologist and a nutritionist.
Years of training has involved some trial and error, with high readings much more problematic than hypos. As a result, Kevin aims for different peak blood glucose readings before and during a fight when compared to training.
“Before a fight adrenaline plays a major role. I’ll need no additional carbs and my blood sugar sits at around 10-13 mmol/l. The fight only lasts around half an hour after everything is said and done and I can begin correcting again.
“I would personally prefer to be little bit on the higher side temporarily during a fight and bring myself down afterwards than risk being low during a fight.
“During training is different: 7-9 mmol/L is my preferred level; I eat low GI carbohydrate to keep stable. Energy bars are by far the most effective form of low GI carb to keep my blood sugar stable during training.”
Kevin eats an array of nutritious food which he considers the “main thing” in ensuring effective training, as well as to help his blood glucose levels.
“I eat a lot of oatmeal, fish, yams, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, chickpeas, and black beans,” he said. “Good quality, healthy, nutritious food makes so much of a difference in blood sugars and in direct effect energy.”
Making a living can be a hard for MMA fighters: fights often occur sporadically, between one and three times a year, and injuries are always liable to lead to cancellations. But Kevin, who currently fights under the Battlefield Fight League banner, is aiming for the top, and his ambition is untamed.
“I recently stepped away from my day job in order to focus solely on mixed martial arts. Fighting is my only job now. I spend 3-7 hours a day around the gym training, teaching classes, and teaching private lessons.
“My goal for MMA is to make it to the top of the sport. Every hockey player wants to go to the NHL, every golfer wants to go to the PGA. I want to go to wherever that version of MMA is.”
Kevin’s next fight is scheduled for 18 February, 2017.