I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Danika Johnson. Danika is a fitness competition champion with type 1 diabetes and we talked about how she manages both her diabetes and fitness during her pregnancy.
Danielle is super motivating and has a lot of knowledge about how to be Fit With Diabetes, so I hope you will enjoy the interview!
Please introduce yourself and your sport
My name is Danika Johnson. My passion for health and fitness started at a young age being involved in 3-sports year round and having a family who was also involved in recreational sports.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 11 – this was a pivotal moment in my life – shifting my views on the importance of my health, my relationship with food and how to best fuel my body while staying active and remaining in the sports that I loved.
As all newly diagnosed Type 1 Diabetics (I would presume), I went through my ups and downs in the early stages; trying to find a routine and balance while managing my diabetes. Looking back, I would say that my diagnosis with T1D and my personal journey with finding my balance directly impacted my educational choices and later career; it was a blessing in disguise because it brought me to where I am today in life.
I combined my passion for health and fitness with mental and emotional health, attaining a Bachelors degree in Psychology and a Master in Social Work with a clinical focus on Eating Disorders and Body Image Disorders.
I continued to remain involved in athletics after college, finding a strong interest in the Bodybuilding Community. I have been competing in the figure and bikini division for about 6 years now. I attained my IFPA Pro Bikini Athlete status in 2013 and soon after competed at The World Championship and achieved the Overall World IFPA Bikini Champion Title in 2014.
Currently, I work at a local Health Club, in Essex, Vermont, as The Fitness Director and Head Personal Trainer. I am also a Competition Prep Coach and Posing Presentation Coach. My passion lies in helping others to achieve overall health – mentally, physically and emotionally. No matter what goal you have set for yourself, all of those components of health are imperative to your outcome and well-being.
You’ve climbed all the way to the top of your sport as a pro and even have a World champion title. What does it take to get to that level and still manage your diabetes?
It’s been an amazing & insightful journey for sure! There are so many things that went into achieving the level of competing that I am at today, but I would have to say the key components were a good support system, a knowledgeable and caring coach, and a strong “why” or reason.
Management of my diabetes always comes first, but I found that when I was on prep, having set meals with set macro-nutrients, it actually became easier to manage because there was very little if any variation in my macro calculations.
One point of frustration that would come up occasionally would be when my sugar was low and I needed to address it with food that was off the scheduled meal plan. This did not happen often, but when it did, my coach would just adjust my plan if needed.
Another interesting thing that did happen was my insulin sensitivity increased and I was able to use less insulin during my prep. I was using the sauna 4-5 times per week for 10-15 minutes and the sauna would actually lower my sugars and have a longer effect on blood sugar maintenance throughout the day.
I have heard of other studies out there looking at this, but it was incredible to have some days where I was eating all of my meals, and didn’t need any insulin! That said, everyone is different in how their body responds to things, my body just happen to have this type of response. I absolutely learned a lot more about my diabetes through my competition preps. It enlightened me about how my body receives and process different foods and how I can best manage my diabetes.
Congratulations on your pregnancy. How does that change the way you work out and your diabetes management?
Thank you! My workouts have not changed too much at all. I have been consciously listening to my body though and taking it easy when I’m tired, and boy, exhaustion has been a big symptom for me during the beginning phases of pregnancy!
Now, management of diabetes during pregnancy is something that I have never experienced before and is by far the biggest challenge for me during my pregnancy thus far. Not that it is difficult in how to manage it, but it is always changing on a weekly basis with my needed insulin dosage and it is imperative to keep your sugar in specific ranges before, during, and after pregnancy.
Once you feel you have your insulin-carb ratios figured out and you have a system down, the very next week it changes! Everything you eat needs to be calculated and accounted for with your insulin intake and you need even tighter control of your sugars. Thankfully, I have an amazing team around me that has been helping me every step of the way.
I currently am working with Jennifer Smith from Integrated Diabetes Services. She is a Registered Dietician, Certified Diabetes Educator, Certified Insulin Pump Trainer and Certified CGM Trainer. She is also a Tri-Athlete, mom and Type 1 Diabetic herself! This combination is what drew me to her initially, and it has been the best decision I have made thus far! She has been so supportive during my pregnancy, providing daily check-ins if needed and bi-weekly Skype sessions.
I also am working with the UVM Maternal Fetal Medicine Team for check-ups, OB appointments, and ultrasounds. Having a strong team around me during this chapter of my life is so important to me and so far, everyone has been amazing in ensuring my health and the health of my growing little one.
Can you tell our readers what a workout as a pregnant fitness champion with diabetes looks like?
I have actually been fortunate to stay consistent with the same workout regimen. There are some days that I am exhausted though and make sure to listen o my body and growing baby 😀 .
My cardio regimen varies but I try to stick to 30-35 minutes steady-state cardio 3 times per week and sprint intervals or outdoor runs 2 times per week.
For resistance training, I have a trainer that I meet with M/W/Th. I typically stick to 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps and switch in some heavier days with 4-5 sets 8-12 reps
- Monday- Legs – quad focus
- Tuesday- back
- Wednesday- shoulders
- Thursday- Legs – glute/hamstring focus
- Friday- outdoor activity or yoga/fitness class
- Saturday- shoulders and arms
- Sunday- rest day
What is your diet like? Has it changed after you became pregnant?
Whether I am in competition prep or pregnant, I enjoy organization and a structured meal plan. I am very much a routine type of person and actually do much better on a meal plan or following macronutrients. This also helps with managing my diabetes and leaves the guesswork out of it.
I usually prep all my meals for the week on Sunday and sometimes on Wednesday as well. I am away for the majority if the day, so making sure I have all of my meals on me is key! A typical day worth of food consist of:
- Meal 1 – Egg white, spinach and tomato omelet with berries and coffee
- Meal 2 – Shrimp with jasmine white rice
- Meal 3 – Grass-fed beef, sweet potato, and broccoli
- Meal 4 – Chicken and spinach salad
- Meal 5 – Protein Pancake made of egg whites, coconut flour, psyllium husk, protein powder and coconut oil. 1 whole egg on the side