Diabetes & The Workout Window

“So what do you do before and after you workout with your diabetes?”

I find this is the question I get asked the most after the obvious, generic “you have to prick yourself how many times a day?!?” kind of questions (sigh…).

To be honest, it’s a fairly tricky one to answer because honestly, the finer details of it change almost every day.

Having done a quick Google search and from what I’ve been told by my specialists – there’s not a lot, actually, scratch that – there’s no information or guidance on this anywhere.

As diabetics we’re told to lead a fitter and healthier lifestyle in order to try and look after our body more. Ok then, how? I’ve yet to come across anyone within the NHS (or similar) who can actually give me specifics on this.

Let’s start with what I define to be the “Workout Window”.

For me, I like to workout first thing in the morning. I’ve always hated packed gyms in the evening, I can’t concentrate properly, there’s so much going on. Gym time is my time just to switch the rest of the world off for an hour, put my headphones in, forget everything outside of those four walls and get a sweat on. Even if it is at 6am in the morning.

My workout window at the moment starts off at 5am most weekdays when my alarm goes off. It consists of my pre workout food, my actual workout and my post workout nutrition.

First of all the first thing I do having crawled out of bed is go straight to the bathroom and test my blood glucose. It’s almost an hour exactly before I workout and I need to get some food in me. This glucose level allows me to adjust my Novorapid to suit my pre workout meal.

I then get into the kitchen and make myself a big bowl of Proats (click here for the recipe) along with a big mug of coffee and a glass of water. This is about 60-70 minutes before I workout, so just about enough time for the carbs to kick in and give me a bit of energy during the workout. I’d rather have something fuelling me during exercise rather than exercising on an empty stomach when I’m in danger of having a hypo. Numbers are still in good range, but there’s a little extra in the tank.

Problem is, I’m surrounded by sweating people who are working hard, out of breath and pushing themselves. Having a hypo probably wouldn’t look too different to someone just having a really hard workout and the gym isn’t the most ideal location to have one – so I’m a big advocate of eating a good meal an hour or two before exercise and adjusting my insulin to suit – better to be safe than sorry.

At the moment my goals are focussing on building as much lean muscle mass as possible over the next 5 months. So my workout usually lasts around an hour consisting of lifting weights and the odd bit of cardio for around 10 minutes or so at the end. Then I shower, get dressed and check my blood sugar. Then it’s post workout shake which includes whey protein and a simple carbohydrate, touch of insulin and it’s off to work.

By the time I sit at my desk it’s about 7:45-8:00am and it’s time for my post workout meal. At the moment this consists of a protein source (chicken, beef etc.), carbs (white basmati rice, sweet potato) and vegetables. I’m having carbs as I want to build muscle and replenish and repair my body. To be sure I check my levels again just before I eat. I don’t want them too high or too low and usually the gym and having the insulin afterwards is enough for me to be able to get away with not having any more. But I always check just to be sure, and if it’s a relatively high carb meal, then I’ll just inject a little bit extra.

Two hours or so later I check my levels again to make sure I’m ok.

So that for me, is a workout window of around 5 hours. Much longer than most people – but I have to be careful.

The most frustrating part when I first starting out doing this was that I could do this 10 times and it’ll be completely different 2 or 3 times out of the 10. Over the past few months I’ve honed in on exactly what I need to do nutrition and recovery wise in order to get my levels as consistent and in range as possible. It’s a very strict routine and it works for me.

So my biggest piece of advice for anyone who is worried about training or the gym or is struggling themselves is to just be a bit OTT about it all. Make sure you eat properly, adjust your bolus/ basal insulin as you need to and keep track of your levels. Be really attentive to begin with and over time you’ll recognise a pattern. Even test during your workout if you have to. It won’t always be the same, it won’t always be perfect but it will help. Don’t worry about everyone else and them watching, they’re not you and you have to look after you.

Keep a record. Note down insulin levels, glucose readings (I’ve started using the Health app on my iPhone for this – works really well), your nutrition, the type of workout and how you feel as well. It may be monotonous and repetitive, but in the long run, I’ve found it has only benefited me.

I’d be interested to hear about anyone else’s experiences when it comes to working out and their diabetes so if you like, please leave a comment below!


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Dan has been a Type 1 Diabetic since November 2011 and writes about his experiences living with two autoimmune conditions (Type 1 Diabetes and Ulcerative Colitis), nutrition, exercise and living an overall healthier life on his blog and via his social media platforms.

2 thoughts on “Diabetes & The Workout Window

  1. Hi. I particularly agree with plenty of glucose level checks. I am relatively newly diagnosed (6 months) and my biggest worry about lifestyle change was being able to still exercise hard.

    After a couple of months of adjusting the rest of my life and tentatively finding out what I could do I'm now training just as much as before. Either bike or run or HIIT weights 5 or 6 days a week. I'm close to being in the shape of my life at 38 although struggling to put the muscle mass back on that I lost in the weeks before diagnosis.

    Polar opposite to you though in that I found what works for me best is not exercising after higher carb meals so I have as little bolus in my system as possible since the biggest danger was it increasing the effectiveness of the Novorapid and this response can vary massively depending on the day right!

    This means before breakfast as a bike to work or mid afternoon (lucky in my job I can head to the work gym when I like) 2 hours after a relatively low carb lunch (I get most of my carbs with a porridge and fruit breakfast).

    I have never had a low when exercising on this basis and a high level of confidence that I won't. If I test below a 6 before I start I'll have a couple of bites of an apple or something. I still always have glucose in my pocket whenever I exercise though and sometimes take a couple of tabs if I can't tell if the pounding head, nausea and shaking is a hypo or because of the exercise.

    What I mainly find is a post exercise increase from pushing hard courtesy of my liver deciding to help out :-).

    For me all approaches are right if it works for you. I have quickly formed an opinion that we with diabetes should be trusted to find our own way rather than treated as ignorant and follow strict rules dictated by the medical profession. Owning the condition and dancing with it on your terms is the route to better control, don't believe anything the experts tell you until you have found out what works for you. I have had hba1c of 6.7% from 3 months in – still waiting to see if this is just the famous honeymoon period though 🙂

    I follow you on twitter f you'd like to PM.. @richardmerrells

    Always read your blogs, they help me a lot.


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