Maintaining Diabetes as an Athlete

Hang out with any type 1 diabetic and you’ll find we are snack masters. Going on an adventure without snacks and sugary options for emergencies is not an option. My pockets and backpacks are always stocked with glucose tablets, juice boxes, Gu packets, and Tahoe Trail Bars for easy maintenance. Blood sugar worries no more.

blood sugar diabetes athlete type 1

Hanger is Real

Food is so important in day-to-day life. Hanger is real, we need fuel to do everything, and for the majority of people their food choices are just that, choices be it lifestyle or political, but a second thought and habit.

For a diabetic it is a double edged sword. Not enough food and I crash (or experience hypoglycemia), too much (miss-accounted for) and it is my kryptonite into a hyperglycemic lethargic feeling. That’s why I try to break the second thought, mindless consumption, which is not easy to do as a young woman on the go.

I have always eaten very healthy, but we all know what a couple of drinks can do to our decision making or an on the go meal means. My diet and choices are in a new era of “adulting” where I not only make “healthy” choices, but am very calculated in what I choose to fuel my body with on a day to day basis and on the adventures I go on.

Learning what Works

I’ll be honest, I am just coming back from an 8 year hiatus of managing my diabetes the way it should be, so I am learning slowly what works and does not work for me being an active young person in the mountains.

My goal to have better management started as a New Year goal. I was determined to count my carbohydrates and check my blood sugars; routines I would have to create and stick to as an on the go 20 something.

If you’re unfamiliar with diabetes you may be wondering why carbs rather than sugar? Our bodies metabolize carbs into glucose, so they ultimately become the same thing. In the diabetes world, my body cannot tell the difference between a bowl of pasta and a can of soda. Obviously this would be terrible dietary words to live by, but speaking strictly diabetes – same same.

Creating a Blood Sugar Routine

I will back track a little, there is a list I was given of things that make blood sugar levels go high and low (a normal person will usually fall between 80mg/dL-120 mg/dL*) and it truly is overwhelming. There are about 40 main “triggers” on each list and many of them are THE SAME! How frustrating is that? I could not sleep enough, go to the gym, or stress out about a deadline and all of these things could cause a spike or a crash in my blood sugar levels. Diet and exercise are on that list and in my opinion the easiest and most challenging things to manage with diabetes.

That being said, I have mastered the art of breakfast before skiing and correcting lows during mountain biking, and that’s about it. If I have a protein smoothie with about 40g of carbs before I go skiing or coaching my levels at lunch turn out pretty well without any lows in between. So naturally, to keep it safe and develop a routine I stuck to the smoothie all winter.

Diabetes and Exercise

Summer on the other hand is a whole different story. Biking for me is a way more intense form of exercise and usually an afternoon or evening thing for me. As the bike season started I would set off on my pedals, so far pretty short pedals with the summer schedule, with a blood sugar of 215mg/dL-250mg/dL, which felt like a good baseline.

As I was pedaling I would feel sweaty (normal) and like I didn’t have a lot of power in my pedal strokes (then rationalized as being out of shape). It turns out, my blood sugars were crashing to the 30’s, which is dangerously low, because of insulin I had taken earlier in the day to correct lunch time high blood sugars.

As mentioned before, exercise can cause high and low bloodsugars, but it also intensifies the potency of insulin. So I took a large dose earlier in the day, exercise finds that insulin and wakes it up during the pedal, resulting in a low. The quick and magical correction so far has been a juice box or Gu packet (quick sugar that doesn’t need to be digested, just absorbed) followed by a half of a Tahoe Trail Bar (for protein that stabilizes the quick sugar and makes it stick).

So what am I getting at in all of these side tangents about my diet and exercise? That I really have no clue what I’m doing, but learning more and more every day about myself and health that needs balancing with the sports I love to participate in. What I do know is that consuming foods I feel confident in brings a little sanity to the whole equation.

Eating Low-Carb

What is my next step in the experiment? My doctor recommended that I choose to use the law of low numbers: eat low-carb which leads to low-insulin which leads to a low(er) risk for highs and lows.

My Diabetes Journey Going Forward

July has been the first month that I am starting to consciously choose low carb meal and snack planning, which for me has meant less than 30 carbs per meal and so far I feel great. It isn’t always easy to plan meals, but choosing the lower carb options and skipping the extras has proven to keep me a little more balanced with less extreme highs and extreme lows. As I adjust from my favorites of fancy ramen and home-made fried rice and find better options like cauliflower rice and zoodles, I hope to have less than 15g of carbs per meal and snack and see how it goes. But you can bet I’ll always have a Tahoe Trail Bar stashed in my pack, pocket, or car for those times I need a little more fuel for the next journey. Check back in a few months to see how the new diet has worked for me.

*levels are measured in milligrams per decilitre

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