Malakai Fekitoa's Story
It took steely determination, talent and a radical change in diet for Malakai Fekitoa to reach the top of his physical game. Like many young Pacific Islanders he says as a teenager he favoured sugar (lots of it) and takeaways in his diet. But experience has taught him that what he puts into his body makes a big difference to how he looks, feels and performs on the rugby field.
In fact, giving up sugar and takeaways was a turning point in his rugby career, the softly-spoken Malakai, 24, explains, on the eve of the All Blacks game against the Wallabies in the battle for the Bledisloe Cup in August.
“Coming from the islands, I used to love sugar in everything, like Raro – everything had to be fizzy. At school, I didn’t know anything – I drank fizzy drinks and ate takeaways – but I got away with it because I trained a lot.”
At 19, Malakai was semi-professional and his body fat was tested. The results were a bit of a shock. They told him he had to change his eating habits to reduce his body fat. This would help his precision and performance on the pitch.
So the teenager cut out sugary stuff, fizzy drinks, caffeine and takeaways. He reduced his carbs, going from eating half a loaf of bread to one or two pieces of toast, and he stopped eating his favourite banana bread.
“After two to three weeks I notice a big difference. I have more energy, when I play I feel lighter and stronger and I feel good about myself, I look better, I can tell the difference, every day I can see the change.
“They tested again and my body fat had gone down. Even my flatmate, he followed what I did. Although he didn’t cut down everything like me, he stopped the little things. I told him not to eat unhealthy fast foods. He’s a professional rugby player too, a prop, and he went down [in body fat] too. Just the little things, they made a difference.”
Malakai wants to share his story in the hope it may help people, especially young Pacific Islanders, become a little healthier, less heavy and less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Earlier this year he became a FABruary ambassador helping highlight the dangers of obesity and encouraging people to take small steps towards being healthy.
He says diabetes was a bit of a taboo subject in the small Tongan village where he grew up. Malakai comes from a large traditional family and is one of 14 siblings. Even now he doesn’t want to ask family members if they have diabetes because they might feel ‘put down’.
“I didn’t know much about diabetes, I didn’t know what it meant until Sue [Brewster] from Diabetes NZ approached me. We talked about it and she explained everything. That’s when I decided I wanted to put my hand up and help out.
“In my culture, most Islanders and my family, some of my brothers and sisters, are not into training, or don’t know much about what to eat and what not to eat, and I want to help them first.
“I think people are ashamed about it [diabetes]. Islanders are very secret about their health.