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Storytime: John’s Top Tips On Diabetes Management When Playing Sports

« WeCare Blog | June 8, 2023 |
Tips & Tricks
Storytime: John’s Top Tips On Diabetes Management When Playing Sports

Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child can throw life into some turmoil as the whole family learns to adjust. One of the questions that may come up is whether you’re still allowed to be just as active as you were before learning about your diagnosis. The answer is yes! Keeping physically active is just as important, if not more so, when it comes to managing diabetes. However, when living with type 1 diabetes, there are a few extra considerations to keep in mind. Here, John shares what he’s learnt on his journey of tackling sport while living with type 1 diabetes.

John’s Story

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes at age 9, one of the first things I asked my dad was: “Does this mean I can’t play sports anymore?” My parents can tell you that I’ve been competitive and passionate about sports from a very early age. Consequently, when I was diagnosed, I was worried that living with diabetes was going to stop me from doing the things I loved.

After talking with my diabetes healthcare team, I was relieved to learn that living with diabetes wouldn’t keep me from competing. Instead, it would just take commitment and responsibility to learn how my body reacts to exercise so I could effectively manage my blood glucose (BG) levels during and after exercise.

Years later, sports and exercise continue to be important parts of my life. While growing up, I learned how to manage my BG levels in many different exercise-related scenarios, with each context requiring different management. Here are some tips I’ve learnt along the way.

My Tips For Pre- To Post-Workout

Preparation is the name of the game. Set yourself up for success by going into the workout when your body is most comfortable and be prepared to handle unfavourable BG levels. Here are the top tips that I’ve learnt work for me, but you may find something else is better in your case. I’d recommend discussing your exercise regime with your diabetes healthcare team to find a routine that fits you best, from pre- to post-workout.

3 Things To Look Consider Before Pre-Workout

1. BG Levels.

I aim to raise my target BG levels before I start working out, because I know I usually drop a few points over the course of an hour-long medium-intensity workout. If my BG levels fall below this range before the workout, I will typically eat an energy bar or other small snack to sustain me.

2. Basal Insulin.

I often don’t need my basal insulin when working out because the exercise drives my BG levels down. To prevent lows, consider experimenting with reduced temporary basal rates or removing your pump entirely for the duration of the workout. Check with your diabetes healthcare team to see if this is safe for you to try.

3. Meal timing.

Personally, I try to not exercise right after a carbohydrate-heavy meal. I know my body is sensitive to active insulin during exercise, so exercising after a large meal (and thus bolus) is challenging. However, if I do eat something carb-heavy before a workout, I never give a full insulin bolus.

My Top Tip During A Workout

Backup Glucose Source.

My top choices are glucose tablets or a sports hydration drink. I keep these types of sugar on hand in case my BG dips low or starts dropping rapidly. You may want to ask your diabetes healthcare team to help you formulate a plan on what to do in the event of hypoglycaemia.

2 Things To Consider During Post-Workout

1. Snacking.

This helps restore energy burned during the workout and aids in preventing lows. I often eat a small snack (~15g) after my workout (without dosing).

2. Temporary Basal Rate.

If I do a LOT of exercise over the course of the day (like 3 or more games of a basketball tournament), I will set a temporary basal for the first few hours of the night when I go to bed.

3 Other Specific Challenges:

1. The Adrenaline Factor.

I see a notable difference between my BG trends during practice versus games due to adrenaline. During practice, my BG levels are usually relatively stable. However, I find myself occasionally having to give insulin in games due to seemingly random BG spikes, probably due to the adrenaline and excitement of the competition. Be prepared for this just in case your BG levels start to rise during game time!

2. Postgame Plunge.

After long days of intense cardiovascular exercise (usually long runs, tournaments, etc), my BG levels will continue to drop into the night due to extended recovery. Personally, the best response has been to use reduced temporary basal rates that run into the night. There is no universal formula for this, so it might take some time to learn the best method for your body.

3. Pump-Site Protection.

Remember to protect your pump and pump-site as much as possible when exercising! When playing competitively, I always remove my pump and incorporate extra protection at the site.

Remember that even with extra protection, your pump site might still get dislodged (especially during contact sports). Be prepared for this by always having backup insulin in the form of injections and extra pump sites (and possibly a small cooler to keep the insulin cool if you’re outside)!

Final Thoughts

Sports and physical exercise are an important part of managing diabetes. If you live with type 1 diabetes, your diabetes healthcare team is there to help you come up with a plan of action that allows you to safely tackle sport at full speed.

This patient testimonial relates to an account of an individual’s response to treatment. The account is genuine, typical and documented. The views and opinions expressed are those of the patient or author and not representative of Medtronic or of any third parties referenced. The response other persons have to treatment could be different. Please speak with your diabetes healthcare team for information on whether the treatment is appropriate for you. The information provided in this blog is an individual account specific to the writer’s experience in the management of their own diabetes. Before considering any changes to your diabetes management you must speak with your diabetes healthcare team.

*Editor’s note: This article has been adapted and reproduced from a post published on Medtronic Diabetes Australia.