Starting a workout program as a person with diabetes can be daunting, even if it’s something you really want to do. I hear a lot of people with diabetes say that working out scares them, or is very difficult, because they just end up treating low blood sugars all the time. That’s why I created this short guide to working out with diabetes.
This 10-step guide is based on my experience as a person with diabetes and fitness professional. It’s what has worked for me and what I teach my clients who have diabetes. The key is knowledge. When you learn how your body (and your blood sugar) reacts during different types of workouts, you will be able to manage your diabetes when working out, rather than letting your diabetes run the show.
10 steps to working out with diabetes
- Set a goal – Be ambitious but realistic and take into account that in the beginning, you will spend a lot of time learning your body’s limits and how it reacts to your workouts. Don’t expect dramatic results overnight.
- Start a written journal – It will be much easier to learn how your body reacts if you can go back and see what happened last workout (or last month).
- Use your journal to track workouts, blood sugars, insulin, diet, etc. – Try to identify any trends (you always get low blood sugar when working out in the morning, when the best time to eat before workouts is, etc.).
- Stick with the same routine and diet for the first 3-4 weeks – The fewer variables there are, the easier it will be to see trends.
- Analyze your journal entries – Spend some time reading through your journal. Try to spot patterns and figure out how your body reacts to different types of exercise and food. If something isn’t working (like if you often have to stop your workouts because of low blood sugar), change ONE variable at a time to see if that helps. This could mean changing what you eat before the workout or how much insulin you take.
- Consider changing your insulin levels – Working out will increase your insulin sensitivity a lot, so if your blood sugar is consistently high or low throughout the day, it may be time to adjust your insulin. Share your journal with your endocrinologist and discuss if you should make any changes.
- Never starve yourself to lose weight! – Your body needs quality food to run, especially as a diabetic. Under-eating is not a sustainable way to lose weight or manage your diabetes (you can check out my healthy meal plan example for inspiration to a healthy diet).
- Prioritize lifting weights – Building a little muscle has helped me tremendously with controlling both my weight and my diabetes. More muscles mean higher metabolism, which means better weight control and higher insulin sensitivity (less insulin).
- Find support – There are a lot of good groups in most cities and on Facebook where you can connect with other diabetics for motivation and support. I also have dedicated Facebook group for Diabetes Strong with an incredibly supportive and helpful community.
- Consider hiring a trainer – A personal trainer and nutritionist can help you create a good workout and diet plan (any good trainer can create your workout plan but don’t get diet advice from someone who doesn’t know a lot about diabetes).
If you want to learn more about how to be fit with diabetes, I have written a number of more in-depth guides on how to deal with some of the issues we can face when working out with diabetes:
- How to Prevent Low Blood Sugar during Cardio Workouts
- How to Find Your Formula for Insulin and Food Around Workouts
- How Resistance Training Affects Your Blood Sugar
- How to Lose Weight When You Live with Diabetes
If you have any questions about getting started on a workout program as a diabetic, please post them in the comments or in our Facebook group. We would love to hear about your challenges and experience and provide as much help as we can. You can also sign up for my weekly newsletter (and get a welcome gift) in the form below.
Now get out there and kick butt!