If you regularly do cardio (like running, swimming, dancing, etc.), you have probably noticed that your blood sugar reacts differently depending on the type of cardio.
While steady-state cardio will usually make your blood sugar drop, interval training can make it increase (you can read why in this post).
The same goes for resistance training (weight lifting) and blood sugar. Some types of resistance training will make your blood sugars increase!
In this post, I’ll talk about how different types of resistance training affect your blood sugar and the strategies you can try to proactively manage your blood sugar during and after resistance training.
Always discuss changes to your insulin doses with your medical team. Since we’re all a little different, you may need to adjust differently for exercise than I do.
Table of Contents
- Why resistance training is good for people with diabetes
- How high-rep resistance workouts affect my blood sugar
- How low-rep resistance workouts affect my blood sugar
- How to prepare for resistance training and prevent post-workout lows
- How to adjust your insulin up to 36 hours after a resistance workout
Why resistance training is good for people with diabetes
I absolutely love resistance training for three reasons:
- Resistance training makes me feel strong and empowered.
- Resistance training has helped me shape my body to my liking.
- Resistance training ultimately makes my diabetes easier to manage, as it improves my body’s ability to utilize insulin.
Resistance training generally falls into two categories
- Low-rep (heavy) training with pauses between each set.
- High-rep training or supersets with little rest between sets. Your heart rate is elevated throughout the workout.
Each type of resistance training will affect my blood sugar a little differently during my workouts but they both have the same long-term benefit of a significantly improved insulin sensitivity.
How high-rep resistance workouts affect my blood sugar
In general, I need to be a little more careful and watch my sugars more closely if I do high-rep workouts, supersets, or a lot of compound leg exercises (like squats, deadlifts, or lunges).
These kinds of workouts will have a cardio-like (aerobic) impact on my blood sugar since my heart rate will be elevated for most of the session and I can expect my blood sugar to drop.
I treat sessions like these almost as I would treat steady-state cardio – by reducing my pre-workout insulin dose by about 30%-50%.
How low-rep resistance workouts affect my blood sugar
When it comes to more traditional resistance training with fewer reps (less than about 12 reps per set), the situation is a little different. When doing workouts like this, I sometimes see my blood sugar go up, and sometimes I don’t see much of an impact at all. It comes down to what body part I’m training.
For smaller muscle groups like arms and shoulders, my heart rate won’t usually increase that much despite the heavy weights, and my blood sugar will remain stable. If I do heavy chest, back, or leg workouts, however, I’ll most likely see an impact on my blood sugar, and it can often be an increase. My body reacts in the same way as when I do an interval cardio workout.
Given this knowledge, I’ll reduce my pre-workout insulin dose minimally or not at all for a low-rep workout, depending on the body parts I am training.
How to prepare for resistance training and prevent post-workout lows
When it comes to resistance training, pre-workout meals play a huge role in whether you’ll be successful in the gym. I always eat something before and after a strength-training workout to ensure I have enough energy to do the workout, rebuild my muscles, and maintain good blood sugar levels.
My pre-workout snack is a fairly low glycemic carb (like brown rice) and some lean protein (like chicken breast) which I eat about an hour before my workout. By eating a low glycemic carb and some protein, I get enough energy for my workout without having to take a lot of insulin.
My post-workout snack consists of a low or high-glycemic carb with an easily digested protein (like fruit and a whey protein shake).
As mentioned, I generally reduce my insulin dose for the pre- and post-workout meals by up to 50%, especially on high-rep and superset days, due to the cardiovascular (aerobic) component of the workout, which always makes my blood sugar drop.
However, taking a bit of insulin before a resistance training workout also has the benefit that it reduces my risk of high blood sugar during the low-rep sessions.
How to adjust your insulin up to 36 hours after a resistance workout
My approach to insulin adjustments for the 24 to 36 hours after I leave the gym is the same no matter what kind of resistance training I’ve done.
What happens when you do resistance training is that you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, and for the next 24 to 36 hours, your muscles heal and get bigger and stronger. During this period, your muscles need energy to heal and that has to come from somewhere, so low blood sugars can easily be the result if I don’t plan ahead.
If I do resistance training less than four times per week, I will typically have to reduce my nighttime basal insulin by up to 50% on the days on which I work out (this is different for every individual so you need to experiment and track your results to find what works best for you).
If I do resistance training more than four times per week, the increased insulin sensitivity is present all the time and I can simply lower my nighttime basal permanently without having to adjust for individual workouts.
Note: If you do resistance work to the point of severe or delayed soreness, you can actually increase insulin resistance. If the muscles are being repaired for several days due to extreme damage, you can’t restore glycogen in them until the repair is done, and that causes insulin resistance.
I find it easier to adjust for resistance training than for cardio, as long as I am very aware of the kind of resistance training I am doing and remember these guidelines:
- High-rep workouts in which your heart rate is elevated will most likely make your blood sugar drop.
- Low-rep workouts that don’t elevate your heart rate significantly (like arms or shoulders) most likely won’t affect your blood sugar.
- Hard low-rep workouts of large muscle groups can affect your blood sugar like an interval workout, potentially leading to an increase in blood sugar.
- Don’t be scared of eating!!! Eat enough lean protein and carbs to fuel your workout, ensure muscle recovery, and (with the appropriate insulin dose) stabilize your blood sugar levels.
- Consider reducing your insulin levels appropriately during the 24 to 36 hours after a workout to adjust for the type of resistance training you’ve done.
Have fun in the gym!