Some of the most popular questions i get asked regularly on social media from fellow diabetics are; ‘What supplements can i take?’, ‘What supplements do you take?’ and ‘Is it safe for me to have whey protein shakes?’. Supplements are a great way to help you boost your daily protein intake, speed up the muscle building/fat burning process, keep your joints in check and keep your body as a whole nice and healthy. The first thing id say to anyone is to remember that supplements are a supplement! They are not meal replacements and you should never sacrifice nutritious whole foods for shakes or tablets. They are designed to fill in the gaps, help save you money and really be the ‘icing’ on top of that delicious, creamy cake (that we all probably shouldn’t be eating). But before i go off on a tangent about cake…lets get stuck in with the basics!
So as a Type 1 Diabetic heavily into fitness and bodybuilding, what do i use? Along with a well rounded multivitamin, here are my top 5 supplements for those looking to add the icing on that cake!
1. Whey Protein
Whey is one of the two main proteins found in milk and it makes up about 20% of milk protein (casein makes up the other 80%). There are three types of whey protein; whey isolate, whey concentrate, and hydrolysate whey protein. Each type of whey protein contains different amounts of fat, cholesterol, lactose, and bioactive compounds. The hydrolysate whey protein is the best absorbed of the three but you’ll find most whey supplements contain a combination of the three. I personally use a whey concentrate from a company called Bulk Powders. Not only is this one of the cheapest available forms of whey protein in the UK but per 30g scoop it boasts a healthy 25g of protein, 2g of fat and only 1.5g of carbs. The last figure is pretty essential when it comes to choosing what brand you’ll be using as some can be loaded with unnecessary carbs. Keep an eye out!
In short, whey protein is completely fine for a diabetic to consume. There is a but though and its going to get a bit technical, concentration caps on please people. Although the whey contains a very minimal amount of carbs that would have very little to no effect on blood glucose levels, i have found personally that this will induce a spike in my blood glucose level. Now this confused me for quite a while and i struggled to work out why this was happening. It also appeared to happen when consuming large amounts of chicken in one sitting or even protein bars (containing predominately whey protein) such as ‘Quest’ bars that boast only 3g of carbs per bar. That was until i stumbled across an article explaining a process known as Gluconeogenesis.
I’ll try not to waffle on too much but i really wanted to cover this topic as it helped me understand why i was getting unexplained highs and what i had to do to combat them. So what happens when gluconeogenesis occurs? ‘Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate carbon substrates such as lactate, glycerol, and glucogenic amino acids (derived from protein)’. The explanation for the high blood glucose level lies within the conversion of glucogenic amino acids as the protein is digested and broken down in the body to glucose.
After further research and a bit of trial and error i came up with a solution to my ‘protein spikes’. Now first i must stress that we are all different and in no way will this be the exact solution for everyone. I highly recommend you start off with the smallest amount of insulin possible and work your way up from there until you have perfected your dosage. For myself, I found that I needed to use a 1:2 ratio when calculating my insulin dosage after eating protein. For example, 20g of protein would warrant 1 unit of rapid acting insulin. My current carbohydrate ratio is 1:1 so we can say my protein ratio is 50% of my carb ratio. Once you’ve calculated your own protein ratio it becomes no harder than carb counting like many of us do on a daily basis! If you need any further help or information on Gluconeogenesis please do not hesitate to contact me.
To summarise, i believe whey protein is a fantastic supplement to use along side your physical activity. The combination of its rapid absorption rate, cost, BCAA content, low carbohydrate profile and flexibility in the diet (tasty recipes coming soon!) makes it my go to number 1 protein supplement in my diet.
Next up in my run down of daily supplements is Creatine. Specifically, Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine has been shown to increase physical performance in successive bursts of short term, high intensity exercise. Research suggests that over 90% of athletes competing at the London 2012 Olympics were supplementing with Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine is particularly popular for bodybuilders, powerlifters, rugby players, football players – anyone performing successive bursts of short term, high intensity exercise. In short, it increases endurance, strength and stamina and helps you push just that little bit harder! And if it couldn’t get any better…its actually been proven to help diabetics maintain a healthy blood glucose control!
The study titled “Creatine in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomised, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial” found that the participants who took creatine experienced an increase in Glut-4 translocation, which may be related to the improved glycemic control. Glut-4 is a protein that transports the simple sugar glucose into and out of cells. This study was published in 2011 in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” journal and involved Type 2 diabetes sufferers.
I have been a user of Creatine Monohydrate for over 5 years now and believe it deserves a firm spot at number 2 on my list. Ive seen the effects first hand and definitely notice a difference in my performance when my stash runs out! Its extremely cheap and available in all good health shops. Once again, i get mine from Bulk Powders!
3. Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Not as exciting as number 1 or 2 but coming in at a solid number 3 has to be a Glucosamine & Chondroitin blend. How many of you have struggled in the past with niggling joint pains or aches? I know i certainly have and at some points in my training career I’ve almost mistaken myself for a 90 year old worthy of a zimmerframe! No matter how careful you are with your training, theres always going to be bumps along the road. For me personally its two old injuries that have stuck around and continued to haunt me over the last few years. A minor tear in my left shoulder and a loss of cartilage in my left knee due to a previous patella fracture have caused me some considerable discomfort until i found out about this supplement!
So, what is it and how does it help? Glucosamine is an amino sugar which can be found in the shells of shellfish. Glucosamine Sulphate is naturally occurring in the human body – high levels of Glucosamine are found in the fluid that surrounds the joints. Chondroitin is a sulphated Glycosaminoglycan which forms a structural component of cartilage. Chondroitin Sulphate is effectively absorbed with a majority passing the gastro-intestinal tract and finding its way to synovial fluid and cartilage. In short, these are the only two products that actively encourage the reproduction of damaged cartilage and production of synovial fluid. Both of which are essential to maintaining healthy joints. It always makes me refer back to the famous saying – ‘A chain is only as strong as its weakest link’. Without healthy joints your muscles are worthless. Supplementing with a Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplement daily will ensure your joints stay fit for the job!
4th in my list is an amino acid know as AAKG or in its full term, Arginine Alpha-ketoglutarate. AAKG is a nonessential amino acid that’s necessary when it comes to making nitric oxide in the liver. “Both AAKG and nitric oxide amplify the beneficial muscle-building effects of exercising and nutritional supplements,” explains registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson Jim White. Not only is AAKG used to assist in building muscle, its also used to treat kidney disease, intestinal and stomach disorders, liver problems and cataracts. It is also used to increase sexual energy, and for the prevention and treatment of erectile dysfunction disorder and sterility in men.
Some people take alpha-ketoglutarate to improve peak athletic performance because it helps the liver break down by-products of muscle exercise such as ammonia. Athletes believe AAKG supplements help them exercise longer with less pain and stiffness, and build up more lean body mass. Due to its nitric oxide production, it also assists in helping to achieve the best possible muscular “pump”. Being a vasodilator it helps blood flush into the muscles whilst you exercise causing them to ‘pump up’ and become solid and tight. “Several studies found that the use of arginine alpha-ketoglutarate by bodybuilders promoted larger and longer lasting pumps,” White explains. “The muscles were tighter and stronger. Some of the bodybuilders reported feeling ‘pumped’ all day long”. With a combination of pleasing aesthetic and nutritional values i always make sure I’ve got around 5 grams of AAKG in me pre workout.
5. Vitamin D3
Last but certainly not least we have Vitamin D3! Now let me start by saying my reasonings behind this final one are definitely based on my location. If you’re reading this in Australia, or America or any other country that isn’t constantly raining like the United Kingdom then you’ll most likely do fine without it! Unfortunately due to the lack of beautiful sunshine we have over here in the UK most of us Brits actually have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that contributes to muscle function, normal bones, immune function as well as playing a role in cell division and positive mental health. Vitamin D3, also referred to as Cholecalciferol, can be consumed in the diet, although it’s present in relatively few foods. Oily fish alongside fortified dairy and cereal products are the most common sources of Vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight is responsible for Vitamin D synthesis, and is responsible for the majority of Vitamin D ‘intake’ in the body.
“Research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. In one study, scientists found that people with depression who received vitamin D supplements noticed an improvement in their symptoms. In another study of people with fibromyalgia, researchers found vitamin D deficiency was more common in those who were also experiencing anxiety and depression.”
Feeling the diabetic blues? I know i sometimes do! A daily dose of Vitamin D can help keep your mind healthy and promote better wellbeing all year round.
I hope this has helped some of you understand what i use on a daily basis and why! I seem to get a lot of messages on social media regarding protein shakes and if they’re ok for diabetics to have. I know from past experience that diabetic nurses/doctors will try to steer you away from supplements as they have little to no knowledge in this area but i can assure you first handedly they are completely safe. Just remember, a supplement is a dietary supplement. Create a healthy diet predominately consisting of whole foods and fill in the gaps with the good stuff!
As always if you have any further questions on anything I’ve spoken about you can contact me on any of my social media platforms. Thank you for reading!
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