Should an insulin-dependent athlete’s diet be different?
Fitness trainers tell their clients pretty much the same thing: eat 6 small meals a day, exercise 3-5 days a week, drink your water, eat your vegetables, avoid fast food, and consume double the grams of carbs compared to your protein intake. This is good advice and will yield excellent results unless you are a diabetic who wants to lose weight. If this standard protocol isn’t working for you and you have to take insulin, either by pill or injection, you’ll need to customize a workout and eating plan.
- Step 1. Take the time to figure out how many carbohydrates you burn off during specific activities of varying duration and intensity. The more intense the workout, the more carbs will be burned. I now know that my blood glucose will drop by 100 points in a 1-hour intense cardio or weight-lifting session so I make sure to eat at least 30 grams of carbs right before a session. I will burn about 15 grams of carbs from walking around the mall (I walk fast), and will burn a mere 10 grams of carbs in a 1-hour hot-yoga class. A friend of mine who is also a type-1 diabetic burns 2-3 times as many carbs as I do since she’s not as fit as I am, so it varies per person.
- Step 2. Always test your blood sugar before exercise. This will be your guide as to how much carbs you should eat.
- Step 3. Eat carbs before any workout lasting more than 15-20 minutes if your blood sugar is normal or low. Since exercise lowers insulin naturally, you don’t want to crash. The easiest thing to eat pre-workout is a fruit smoothie with protein powder.
- Step 4. Eat carbohydrates after every 90 minutes of exercise. Everyone should do this, not just diabetics.
- Step 5. Eat lower carbohydrate meals on days you don’t exercise, which will expedite weight loss.
The good news is that the more fit you are, the less insulin you’ll need to take. After six months of weight training, I was able to cut my background insulin in half. These steps will not only reduce your changes of hypoglycemia, but will also let you exercise as much or as little as you want safely, while losing extra fat quickly.