Diabetes & Sports Nutrition

As an athlete and a type 1 diabetic nutrition forms a very important part of my life. In terms of sports nutrition I have to think as an athlete first and then as a diabetic to ensure I am fuelling my body adequately. This is easier said than done and trying to get in all the nutrition that an endurance athlete needs whilst also trying to get insulin doses right and manage blood glucose levels (BGLs) is very challenging. Maintaining stable BGLs is critical for me to be able to train/race effectively and also get all of the nutrition in which my body requires for recovery, fuel and everyday life.

The amount of carbohydrates (CHO), protein and fats required by athletes is pretty well understood along with the timing of nutrient intake around training, recovery and racing. Although there are many diet variations and everybody (especially diabetics) has a different approach, I require an amount of CHO in my diet. As CHO consumption directly relates to insulin requirements I do manage the amount of CHO I consume so that I do not need too higher dose of insulin which would increase my risk of hypoglycaemia. This is by no means a LCHF diet that I follow but I would be consuming on average only 300 grams of CHO daily as oppose to the 500 grams plus which may be recommended by sports dieticians for someone training as much as I do.

I find that the biggest challenge nutritionally as a T1D is that you cannot just eat whenever you want and everything needs to be specifically planned for including timing of meals and snacks, timing of training, BGLs and insulin doses (insulin on board). This planning can be 2hrs before a session or 12hrs before a race and the impact of poor BGL control can last for 24hrs as the body recovers from high BGLs or missed fuelling. It goes without saying that keeping BGLs stable and within a good range it critically import to achieving your best athletic performance. My focus and often stress is on this point in particular but I have figure out how I can best manage all of these aspects and get it right, most of the time.

Some things that I try to maintain from a nutritional point of view include:

  • Consume majority of CHO before, during and after (around) training sessions as this is when less insulin is required to process CHO due to the physical activity and I am still able to fuel my body
  • Eat my main meals within 1 hour of training sessions to avoid having to have a post session snack (with insulin) and then another meal (with more insulin) within a short time. This meal timing also always me to get sufficient recovery nutrition in and reduce the hypo risk.
  • Consume low CHO snacks between meals which do not require additional insulin doses (this is along the lines a low carb high fat diet with a focus on protein and good fats)
  • Maintain a low GI diet which I find assists with keeping BGLs stable. This generally involves including low GI CHO in my meals and also adding protein to assist with BGL stability
  • Understand everything that I eat and matching my insulin doses accordingly – how much CHO, how much protein and what type of fat
  • I generally do not have more than 50 grams of CHO in a single meal as any greater than this increases my insulin dose to a level that I find creates BGL instability
  • I always have two hydration sources with me when I train – one is a 6% CHO mix and the other is a no sugar mix so that I can choose which one I consume based on my BGLs and also maintain adequate hydration
  • During race’s I generally consume about 30-50 grams of CHO per hour and include some protein to assist with slowing the processing/glucose release. This can both be from solid food s and liquids. As the duration of an event extends I am able to consume more CHO per hour.

These points are easy to put down on paper but definitely not easy to get right every day. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that type 1 diabetes is difficult but if you put in the effort you can achieve great results.

**All information in this post is from the authors own experience and does not represent professional medical advice. Please refer to disclaimer.

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