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The Lowdown on Managing Diabetes During Exercise

By Karen Graffeo

Guest Blogger

Posted:  12/12/2013 11:20 PM


Although I know regular exercise is very beneficial to those with diabetes, it’s always been a struggle for me. Several years ago my Facebook feed was filled with posts about the Couch to 5K program. It felt like everyone I knew was training for a 5K. Something about those posts hooked me, and before I knew it, I was training for a 5K too. My husband Pete and I even signed up for a local 5K race.

Although we completed our training plan, I still wasn’t able to run a whole 5K without a few walking breaks. Before our race, Pete promised to run at my pace so we could complete the race together. But on race day, the spirit of competition hit him and he wanted to run as fast as he could (which is much faster than me). The problem, of course, was diabetes. I told him I’d be fine, but he was hesitant to leave me running alone. Then a group of three runners near us said that I could run with them. I explained that I had type 1 diabetes, and Pete was worried I’d have a blood sugar issue and need help. Turned out, those three runners worked together – as Emergency Medical Technicians! It was a happy coincidence and Pete was able to run a great race without worrying about me.

After our 5K was done, we stopped making time for runs and our running shoes gathered a couple years’ worth of dust. But surprisingly, I really missed running, and Pete did too, so we recently began training all over again. My goal this time is to run a 5K without any walking breaks. I’m not quite there yet, but I am running farther than ever before. I’m also doing some solo runs, because I can’t always expect to have either my husband or a group of EMTs along with me! Here are some of the things I do to make sure diabetes causes as few disruptions to my runs as possible.

  • Test!! This is probably the most important thing. I test about 20 minutes before I run, and right after I finish my run.  If I’m feeling extra tired or a little off halfway through my run, I know I need to stop and test then too.
  • Snack as Needed. For me, lowering my basal rate never quite works right for a run. Instead I do much better if I eat a snack before heading out. My go-to is a small banana to fuel my run and keep my blood sugar from crashing. If I do end up low halfway through my run, a glucose gel usually does the trick.
  • Review CGM trend data vs. real-time readings. This is true anytime, but I’ve found during a run, my poor CGM can’t quite keep up with the rapid changes in my blood sugar. So instead, I mute the alarms during the run. I’ve found that about 20 minutes after the run, the real-time accuracy is better and I can review my glucose trends during my entire run to gain insights into what happened.
  • Use Temporary Basals after the Run. Running definitely impacts my post run blood sugars, and my needs change as the training steps up. At first, I could count on lows for a few hours after a run, so I’d set a lower temporary basal. Then for a few weeks, my blood sugars stayed stable after my runs, so I didn’t need any changes. Lately I’ve been noticing some spikes an hour or so after my run, so a higher temp basal does the trick.
Have you caught the running bug too?  Or do you have another form of exercise you enjoy?  What tips do you have to manage diabetes while exercising?

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Posted on Fri Dec 13 00:49:24 GMT 2013

I wear a camelbac backpack on all my runs. I took out the water pouch and carry my meter, keys, and a couple of Gatorade G1 pouches. They are easier to swallow then gels. I also check before running and eat or drink before I go. Nuts and 1/4 cup of orange juice have proven to be a great pre run snack for a 5k to 10k run.


Posted on Fri Dec 13 04:55:16 GMT 2013

I eat a high protein snack before my workout and that works well for me.


Posted on Fri Dec 13 17:25:32 GMT 2013

Christine and Fran, thanks for sharing with us how you manage your diabetes while exercising!

Mehrak Pezeshkan

Posted on Tue Dec 17 18:19:37 GMT 2013

I finished my second half marathon last month..i started with 5K then 10K.... i find starting with a higher bg helps me...then i make my basal rate half....then about every 30-45 mins i have a gu....Im amazed by how much carbs my body burns...My only advise is to pay attention to you body and try different methods till one works. It was hard but i finally figured it out.


Posted on Wed Dec 18 22:41:08 GMT 2013

Merhark, congratulations on completing your second half marathon, and thank you for sharing advise on how you manage your diabetes while exercising!

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