They were so good, we made it a hat trick! Welcome to the third of Soheb's blog posts. You can check out his first posts, on moving with PKU, here.

Soheb also has PKU and is an active member of the online community. He has combined his IT skills and PKU knowledge in several ways to help both himself and others manage their PKU. Here, Soheb talks about gyms, exercise and PKU.

The truth is…

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I go to the gym. As of now, I pretty much use the cross-trainer, but I used to heavily utilise the dumbbells to do some weight lifting. That might sound really weird given how I have PKU and yet I'm building muscle and losing weight, so that's the perfect topic to talk about.

The idea of being fit/muscular, and being a "gym rat", was so thoroughly unappealing to me that I detested the slightest mention of it from anyone. I used to ask myself: “How could anyone just torture themselves continuously for hours on end every day, just to look a little slimmer?”

I really put off going to the gym as much as possible. Even when I did have a gym membership, I initially went once every month or so because the thought of exercising myself to the point of exhaustion was maddening.

So here's the truth - exercising yourself to the point of exhaustion is maddening and you shouldn't do it.

Getting started

... OK, blog over, time to go home and never attempt to go to the gym, right? Not quite.

Like with everything, going to the gym should be fun and rewarding, not an exercise in torture. Not only that, but improvements don't happen overnight. If you've never been before, it will take a bit of time for you to go on the treadmill/cross-trainer for more than 1 or 2 minutes without collapsing to being able to stay on for half an hour or even an hour if you are really dedicated.

The trick is to treat the gym or exercise time as a great way to spend some quality time to yourself doing things on your own terms. And do exercises on your own terms. Take your time to do your exercises. Start off as easy as possible, and then gradually move up levels. It can take days, weeks, months, or even years. Doesn't matter - do the exercises on your own terms.

Whatever you do though, never compare yourself to others. They have probably spent years at the gym getting to their fitness level, so don't bog yourself down by comparing yourself to others.

Instead, compare the time you spent exercising with time spent not exercising. The fact that you are doing exercises may be time where you'd otherwise be lounging around the house being unproductive.

Weight training

Before I start this segment on weight training, I want to clarify that I am not an expert in weight training nor am I a dietitian, so:

Please seek out advice from experts before you go ahead and do anything in this segment if you feel even the slightest bit unsure. Do not put your health at risk over something you've read on the internet. This segment is here to help you become motivated with the idea of weight training as well as report on what worked for me.

The process of weight training involves lifting weights. The act itself leaves little tears in your muscles which get repaired by protein in your body. The body does its best use the protein to make the muscle even more resilient to tears, so you get a stronger layer of muscle.

Polly’s note: This isn’t painful provided you don’t overdo it. The little tears give your muscles a buzz, or warm feeling. You may have already felt this after a workout and wondered what it was. The key, as Soheb says, is to take it slowly and don’t lift the heaviest weights just because you can.

So, how on earth does someone with PKU gain big muscles? Well, you kind of do and don't. The truth is that your body isn't going to be as muscular as other people's bodies - mine certainly isn't.

Admittedly, I'm not a biology expert, but your body does produce some protein - it's the reason why you have to keep clipping your nails and trimming your hair. It's why, y'know, you keep growing and changing and aging etc. It's the body's basic building block. Hopefully, you will feel more encouraged to tackle weight training, but may be disappointed with the results initially.

Bear in mind my previous point of never compare yourself to others.
  • First of all, weight training is the one area where you may find people abusing substances to unnaturally increase their muscle mass.
  • Secondly, don't worry about others - think about how much progress you've made from before to now. That thought will keep you in a positive, healthier mindset for weight lifting and will avoid you taking silly health risks just for supposedly big weight gains.

If you are struggling, speak to your dietitian for advice for gaining muscle mass. The two easiest fixes that can be done is taking your PKU supplements after you've done your workout, and if recommended by your dietitian, taking an extra supplement.

Polly’s note: Please do not take a commercial protein drink to build muscle! Even if your gym recommends it. The likelihood is that they have no idea what the extra protein will do to someone with PKU. Please follow Soheb’s advice and speak to your dietician.

In terms of weight training, I would say take it slow and gradual. Don't jump to the highest weights you think you can lift, as tempting as that is. Instead, start with small weights. I'd recommend somewhere between 8kg and 12kg, and aim for a goal to do 3 sets of 8/10 repetitions.

Once you can easily weight lift at your starting weight, increase the weights by 2kg and repeat. Lots of repetitions with smaller weights will leave your body looking more toned while smaller repetitions with higher weights will help you bulk your mass.

Most importantly, enjoy the process itself. It sounds maddening, but a lot of the fun is doing weight training, being sore the next few days after, and then once you're all healed up you can just feel the difference, making the process worth it. Be sure to give your muscles plenty of days to recover too, otherwise that will just undo all the work you put in!

More reading

Final note from Polly: I used to think that having PKU meant I couldn't build muscle at all. But it just takes a bit of time and care - like anything with PKU! If you are interested, here are some more links to check out:

“BMI is not a personalised reminder of your chocolate and/or beer binges. It lets you know roughly how you are doing.”

“Last year doing bodyweight High Intensity Interval Training I lost almost 3 dress sizes, 8% body fat and... 1.5kg. People kept commenting how much weight I'd lost, but I hadn't lost weight. I had lost fat and gained muscle, which is awesome!”

Hope you enjoyed Soheb's blog, let me know if you'd like more or how you are getting on with exercise at the moment!

Main image by Risen Wang on Unsplash