Today is quite special for me. This very day 4 years ago i was sat in a hospital bed with a drip in my arm as a doctor walked over to me and delivered the news that i was Type 1 diabetic. I thought what better way to celebrate my 4th “Diaversary” than to write a quick blog giving you a brief idea of how I’ve managed to control my diabetes using fitness and bodybuilding over the past 4 years! Hopefully after reading this you will have a slightly better understanding of how to begin your fitness journey and what you can expect.
Id just like to quickly add i was a gym goer before i was diagnosed so i already had the basics behind me. I would always recommend seeking out the help of a personal trainer/professional at your local gym for your first few sessions just to give you a bit of guidance with how the machines work and basic fundamentals of stretching and warming up effectively. If you don’t plan on using a gym and choose home workouts/the great outdoors (which may i add is completely fine and JUST as effective) then i would recommend youtube being your first port of call. There are THOUSANDS of home/garden workout tutorials available and even ones you can follow along with the instructor. Please feel free to contact me via my social media if you need help finding anything.
Im going to break this down into 5 sections to keep it as easy as possible to digest. I will provide links where necessary if you would like to read further into what i’ll be discussing but once again please do not resist in contacting me directly if you need any further advice. Ok so lets get started! My five key points to getting into the gym for the first time are as follows;
1. Test, test and test again!
2. Set realistic goals.
3. Weightlifting is your friend.
4. Take supplies.
5. Enjoy the process!
Test, test and test again!
Everyone will react differently to exercise. The most important rule as a diabetic is to test, test and test again! Now this may seem like common logic but you would be surprised at the amount of fellow diabetics i have discussed this with who are very slack with their testing. You want to be testing just before you begin your workout and asking yourself questions like; how is my BG level looking? Do i need to adjust or correct? Am i at a stable level to begin exerting myself? Research suggests delaying exercise if blood glucose is higher than 14mmol/L (252 mg/dL) and if blood/urine ketones are present. In this state your body will be looking to muscle mass for energy and thats the opposite of what we are trying to achieve here!
Testing midway through your workout is something id also highly recommend. Not only will this give you a good indication of what impact the exercise is having on your BG level, it will also be able to help you identify any trends that are occurring which in turn will allow you to make corrections for the future. Obviously you want to avoid becoming hypo as much as possible but you always want to ensure your BG levels aren’t rising too high either.
When you exercise your muscles need glucose to use as energy. In response, your liver increases the amount of glucose it releases into your bloodstream. Remember, however, that the glucose needs insulin in order to be used by your muscles. So if you do not have enough insulin available, your blood glucose levels can actually increase during or right after exercise. I would always recommend eating around 90-120 minutes before you plan on exercising. A meal with some low GI carbohydrates, moderate fat and moderate protein is ideal. I have found this works best for me and prevents my BG levels from rising as i exercise as i still have insulin in my system from the pre workout meal.
Finally and probably the most important of them all…testing post work out. This is where i struggled the most when i first got back into the gym after i was diagnosed. Now this is really going to have to be trial and error as everyones results will differ but DO NOT stick to your dosage ratios after exerting yourself physically. I found for me personally that my insulin sensitivity increased hugely especially after a heavy resistance training session. This resulted in quite a few unexpected hypos which as you can imagine was not pleasant.
During exercise, your body burns glycogen, a form of glucose that is stored in your muscles. After exercise, your muscles replenish their glycogen stores with glucose from the bloodstream. The more glycogen that is burned during a bout of activity, the longer the body’s insulin sensitivity is increased. In layman’s terms, the harder and more intense your workout, the higher your sensitivity to insulin. This in turn will mean that you need far less insulin to cover the amount of carbohydrates eaten in your post workout meal than you would normally. An ideal post workout meal would be a combination of high and low GI carbohydrates, moderate fat and high protein. I don’t believe there is such thing as ‘testing too much’ when you are experimenting with something new. The more information you gather the more you have to work with when it comes to planning ahead. Test!!!
Set realistic goals!
One of the biggest challenges i find people facing when they first start exercising, diabetic or not, is staying motivated to keep at it. If you have never done this before and are transitioning from a very sedentary lifestyle its going to be a challenge. It wont be easy but thats all part of the fun. If it was easy everyone would be an award winning gymnast! One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated is by setting goals for the future. Now these need to be achievable and realistic whilst still remaining challenging. Start them off small and work your way up as you progress through your goals. There is no point in telling yourself you will lose 2 stone in a month or pack on 20kg of muscle in a few months because its UNREALISTIC.
Short term achievable goals will give you something to focus on and will give you the motivation you need to keep moving forward. Take time to write out your goals as this will give you something to monitor and work towards. This way you will be able to measure your progress as you go along and adjust your fitness plan accordingly to fit in with your end result. Once again there are thousands of youtube videos available out there to help you get motivated. A quick search of ‘Workout Motivation’ will bring up some of my favourites!
Weightlifting is your friend!
I know they might seem scary, threatening, daunting…i know that sweaty man in the string vest with the vein bulging out of his forehead may be slightly off putting and i know it may feel like you’re treading into the unknown but one of the BEST ways to help control your diabetes is through resistance training. Not only is it a great tool for increasing your insulin sensitivity and reducing your insulin intake but it also releases a number of endorphins that make you feel amazing. Use it as a time to have complete concentration and shut off the stresses of the world around you for an hour or so a few times a week and i can guarantee your stress levels will reduce and your mood will brighten.
I know everyone has different goals in mind and not everyone wants to become a “bodybuilder” but using resistance training is for everyone. I can assure you females it wont leave you looking bulky or manly but instead it will improve your all round health and help to tone and shape your body. By adding lean muscle to your body through resistance (weight) training you will increase your daily calories expenditure. Don’t get me wrong, this is also available by completing cardiovascular activities such as running or rowing but the difference lies in what happens after you’re done. Whilst performing cardiovascular activity you are burning calories. When you stop, the calorie burning stops. Whilst performing resistance training you are burning calories but this time when you stop…the calories continue to burn. This is known as the ‘Afterburn’ effect.
Taken from an article written by Jeremy Duvall on greatist.com – “The concept of burning calories after intense exercise is known as “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (or EPOC for short). At the onset of vigorous cardiovascular exercise, the body accumulates an “oxygen debt,” forcing it to work overtime — even after leaving the gym — to repay that debt. Working overtime ramps up metabolism as the body tries to get back to an even playing ground. That means more calories burned while slugging a post-workout shake or kicking up those feet on the couch. What more could you want? If you need some help in figuring out where to get started with your resistance training programme feel free to drop me an email and i will be happy to assist you.
I will pre warn you now…you’re probably going to receive some pretty funny looks from fellow gym goers! Like many other people who train at my gym i take a gym bag with me. Its full of all the essentials like; water bottle, towel, headphones…jelly babies, cereal bars, lucozade, glucose tablets…you can see where this is going. Ok so when i say essentials clearly i mean essential to diabetics (unless you have a bit of a thing for eating whilst working out but who am i to judge?) as i cant imagine most people carry sweets around with them in their gym bag. As funny as I’m making this out to be it could actually be these very items that save your life one day so ensure you are stocked up! Fast acting glucose is essential for any unexpected hypos and the cereal bars/biscuits will help you to stay level after. Make sure your gym staff/buddies are aware of your situation and what you have available in your bag incase anything does go a bit pear shaped!
Enjoy the process!
One of the most common questions I’m always asked by people is how have i managed to stay motivated for so long and continued to work out weekly for almost 6 years. Firstly, if improving your diabetic control and increasing the longevity of your life doesn’t give you the motivation to constantly push forward you must be crazy! Secondly and probably most importantly the answer to that question is because I LOVE IT! Once you have fallen in love with improving your body you will hold the answer to that question too. It has to be enjoyable to you as an individual so you must work to find out what you enjoy most. The word ‘fitness’ is so vague. There are hundreds of different styles of fitness activities out there for you to get stuck in with bodybuilding, powerlifting, crossfit and olympic lifting just to name a few. Do your research. Find something that you think sounds interesting. Join the community and get involved! Once you have fallen in love with the activity you enjoy most the thought of it being a chore will dissolve and it becomes a hobby you will continue to look forward to on a daily basis!
Thank you again for taking the time to read! As i said previously if anyone needs any extra help with where to get started i am just a message away! You can reach me on formats below. Good luck!
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