Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin, a key hormone in the functioning of our body and in the use of glucose.
When this phenomenon occurs, the person suffering from this pathology must inject exogenous insulin to compensate for the lack of their own production. There are many factors that intervene and regulate blood glucose levels at any given moment, and one of the most complicated to control is precisely how the sport we do affects blood glucose peaks.
Compatibility of sport and type 1 diabetes
For people suffering from type 1 diabetes, it is essential to pay maximum attention to their diet, specifically to the amount of carbohydrates they eat, and to continuously monitor their blood glucose levels at each moment of the day.
This is a task that obviously requires work and a slow learning curve, to which we must also add another type of factor that will also significantly vary blood sugar levels: the physical activity we do.
Sport is a really beneficial habit for people suffering from type 1 diabetes (obviously also for those suffering from type 2 diabetes), and it has even been shown that practising sport in adolescence can prevent this type of disease; however, the way in which each type of sport affects blood glucose levels is a somewhat complicated task to control and this is why there are usually fears of possible hypoglycaemias, especially at the beginning or debut of the disease.
A factor to monitor before exercise: baseline blood glucose levels
One of the factors that will influence the glycaemic response to an imminent physical activity is the glucose concentration we have before starting. Thus, we will check our initial blood glucose and, depending on the data we obtain, we will balance at optimal levels to start, if necessary, with a previous carbohydrate supplementation.
- If we start from a low blood glucose level (<100 mg/dL), it is recommended to take a carbohydrate supplement of 5 to 10g before starting exercise until we reach optimal levels above 90 mg/dL and thus avoid possible hypoglycaemia. Delay the start of exercise by 10 to 15 minutes.
- If we start from optimal blood glucose levels (100-250 mg/ dL), physical activity can begin normally, although we must bear in mind that there may be a consequent rise in blood glucose levels if the intensity of the exercise is high and it is carried out in a short period of time.
- If we start with hyperglycaemia (>250 mg/ dL) it is important to monitor the concentration of ketones in the blood or urine, as if these are high it may not be prudent to do sport immediately. In this case, activity should be delayed until normal levels are restored.
How it affects the type of physical activity you do
Another factor that will affect the glycaemic response and blood glucose spikes after sport will be the type of physical activity you do, as each exercise has a different glucose consumption.
- Aerobic work: sports such as running, walking, swimming or cycling are sports that generally involve a greater consumption of glucose, and are therefore associated with greater drops in blood glucose levels. In this case, the decrease in blood glucose levels occurs during exercise and after 12 to 24 hours.
- Mixed work: a sport such as basketball or football involves cardiovascular endurance work at the same time as muscular strength exercise. In the case of these sports activities, we should assess the type of work that prevails in order to determine a possible glycaemic response.
- Anaerobic work: sports that involve significant muscular strength work, such as weight training, have a lower glucose consumption. This means that blood glucose levels may be increased, especially if working at high intensity, by 25-50 mg/ dL. This is because exercise itself promotes the activation of counter-regulatory hormones that cause the liver to release stored glucose and initiate the production of more new glucose.
It is important to remember that if in these cases we choose to balance blood glucose levels by injecting insulin, after two to four hours our sensitivity to insulin is likely to be much greater.
If we finish a physical activity with hyperglycaemia, glucose stores in the liver and muscles may be somewhat low, although after a while blood glucose levels will usually return to normal.
It is very common that when type 1 diabetes makes its debut, all kinds of fears appear due to the worry and agony of falling into hypoglycaemia, which is certainly not an appetising thing to do. Even so, it is important not to give up on something as important in life as sport.
Little by little, taking into account some strategies like the ones we have told you about today and giving yourself a little time to get to know how your body responds, you will be able to benefit from the advantages that sport offers on a general level and as a key tool that you will learn to use to control and balance your blood glucose levels.