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.
Malakai shares his typical match day routine ahead of an evening All Blacks fixture.
Porridge and banana, a little bit of almond milk, no sugar
Half a small glass of orange or apple juice – Malakai wouldn’t normally drink fruit juice but on a game day he needs the extra energy. His usual drink would be (a lot of) water. And sometimes green tea.
One piece of wholegrain toast and avocado with three poached eggs
Fruit eg a small piece of banana or watermelon.
After a breakfast of kings Malakai will take it easy, relax, maybe even go back to bed to sleep.
MORNING TEA 11am
Sometimes a coffee, and maybe a treat like a muffin or scone [but only on game day though!]
Something light like a chicken and vege wrap and a large glass of water.
TEAM TALK AND GAME PREP
There’s no training on game day but the team will do a walk through of the match and prep for the game at their team hotel. Malakai says some people go to the gym, but he prefers swimming during match day to wake him up and stretch.
Malakai will fill up with a big meal before the match. Perhaps chicken, mashed potatoes, veges, one poached egg, half a spoon of baked beans or spaghetti and water. A nutritionist travels with the team and briefs their hotel about the right kind of food to serve. There’s plenty of choice and it’s up to individual players what they eat. Some people don’t eat or just have toast, says Malakai.
JUST BEFORE THE GAME
A scone and jam – Malakai says he needs the sugar to pep up his body for the game. Other than game days his diet is almost sugar free.
Pack bags, shower and get ready to head to stadium for 7.30pm kick off.
The team will have a pre-training meeting in the morning, then from 10am–12 noon it’s training on the field with lots of cardio-busting activities. Malakai might go to the pool and spa afterwards. Then it’s off to the gym for strength training in the afternoon. He stretches morning and night.
MALAKAI’S small STEPS TO SUCCESS
Work out why you want to change in the first place to find your motivation. Start with little steps. Do it gradually, and notice the changes in your body and health.
Look at what you eat and eat a little less. Eat lots of veges and fruit, snack on fruit, nuts and crackers. Make sure you eat at the right time, around 6-7pm not 10pm. Drink a lot of water – why do you need sugar or fizzy every day?
Start with just 10-20 mins of exercise – try walking and build up slowly. You don’t have to go crazy about running, training and stuff. Asking a mate or family member to come with you to help keep you motivated.
Set small goals, try to achieve them, then set some more. This applies to everything in life. For example, just have one slice of toast, not four, because you don’t have to cut out everything in one go.
Remember what you are going through is worth it. You’re going to see a result in your body and health, and when you do, it will be worth it.
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