I’ve just gotten back from a long, slow walk. This rather unexciting circumstance has been brought about by a flare-up of Gout. It’s one of the most ridiculous things that I have to tell people – that I, a thirty-year-old, non-drinking, non-smoking female athlete have Rich Man’s Disease, but without the patriarchal or financial privilege that is supposed to predispose one to it!
I first became aware that I had gout when, on a Saturday night in 2012, when working as a gaming manager after a day of BJJ training and MMA sparring, I started to feel a little pain in my ankle. Within half an hour, the pain had escalated to the point where it was completely debilitating and even the touch of an ice-pack on my foot was excruciating.
I was taken to hospital, in my black work dress make-up and other non-sporting accessories, where I had to explain all of the bruises on my legs and how my ankle couldn’t possibly just be broken, because I had fractured, sprained, broken, torn and crushed many things before with not even half the amount of pain I was in now.
I was given anti-inflammatories, which were surprisingly effective, and a diagnosis of Gout. I remember laughing when I heard it; I thought the young intern was trying to lighten the mood. But no, really, at the age of 27 I had developed Gout.
I went on to discover that it’s not unheard of in athletes. A diet rich in purines and alcohol is only one cause of the build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints which cause this intensely painful condition.
Chronic dehydration and acute joint trauma were implicated as well. I also found out that lactic acid competes with uric acid for the same elimination pathways, so I suspect that this may be another reason why athletes may develop this condition. Some sources even list stress as a contributing factor, and we all know how stressful the life of an athlete can be, whether you’re dealing with the “positive” stress of competition or the chronic, unwanted stress of trying to work and train full-time.
This current flare-up was probably also the result of dehydration. Two weeks ago I manipulated my fluid and electrolyte levels by cutting out salt and fluid loading in order to make sure that I made weight for the Synergy Pro BJJ comp – an endeavour which was successful, but futile, since I was put up to the 71kg division due to there being insufficient competitors.
(This was not a very successful outing for me, by the way. I lost two of my matches on points, and one by triangle. I was happy with my performance, in the sense that I did on the mats what I had practised in training. However, I remained one step behind in the battle of gi-grips. It’s easy to revert back to our default modes, our comfort zones, when we are under pressure, and for me this meant reverting to my NoGi/wrestling instincts, finding my movement blocked by the grips my opponents had on my gi, and then attempting to address them. My opponents, however, seemed completely at home in the gi, taking and exchanging grips instinctively. When all is said and done, I lost to opponents who were simply better than I was in gi BJJ and, although the results were disappointing, there is no shame in losing to worthy opponents.)
I couldn’t afford any cheat-meals, because the week after that I had a scheduled trial weight-cut to 57kg. On Saturday night while the crew were out having all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for Tony’s birthday, I was home alone having lean chicken and kangaroo stir-fry. (I did meet the guys afterwards to wish Tony a Happy Birthday… where I got to watch everyone else eating my favourite desserts…)
I had a couple of days of eating salt, and then it was back to no salt, and fluid loading again. Combine that with a day or so of low-residue eating (where I decided that it would be a good idea to eat some beef to keep my iron levels up) and then a day of fluid cutting followed by rehydrating and refuelling (which included more beef as a “treat”) and a sparring session the day after to test my energy levels and you pretty much have a recipe for Gout.
I got through the weight-cut and performed really well in the sparring session the next day – proving that I can cut to Flyweight and perform well – but I felt the Gout coming on in my ankle almost immediately afterwards. I got some anti-inflammatories on the way home, which halted its progress at a level where I could still limp around in a somewhat functioning way.
And that’s why I’m walking slowly tonight instead of training. It’s highlighted the fact to me that, even though I may go for a long time without experiencing a flare-up of a chronic condition, I can’t afford to forget all of the preventative measures that I have made into habits to prevent them. No more red meat after fluid cuts!