Staying In The Game With Diabetes

Learning that you have diabetes can be a tough blow, especially when you are a child or adolescent participating in sports. But being diagnosed with diabetes does not mean you have to give up the sport or activity that you love. Exercise is an important tool in controlling your diabetes.

Many things can affect your blood sugar response to aerobic or anaerobic activities. Although every person’s response to exercise is different as it relates to blood sugars, typically aerobic exercise tends to decrease blood sugar. It is important to realize that you cannot rely on the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar during activity because these are often the same as responses to exercise.  An athlete who appears confused, shaky or fatigued may be that way because of dehydration and not low blood sugar.

Essential for good diabetes control and even more important when participating in sports is monitoring your blood glucose levels. Before competition or practices, you should check your blood glucose levels twice: an hour before and a half-hour before. By checking it twice, you will be aware which way your levels are going and which way to adjust. During competitions, the best time to check your blood glucose levels is during halftime or during timeouts depending on the sport or activity. An important thing to remember is that blood glucose levels are usually different for practices and competitions.  Practices are usually longer and may cause blood sugars to drop more, while games may increase anxiety and cause a hormonal response that elevates blood sugars. After competitions and practices, it is important to check your blood glucose levels immediately following activity.

Athletes who have good control of their blood glucose levels usually will not go low during exercise.  More often, low blood sugars occur several hours after activity and even up to 24 hours later. Ideally, an athlete should eat some carbohydrates within 30 minutes of stopping activity. This will help avoid delayed-onset hypoglycemia as well as aid in performance for activity the next day.

It is also important to have a plan in place with your coach and athletic trainer in case of an emergency.  It is important that they be involved and are aware of what to do if your blood glucose levels are too low or too high. Besides your monitor, you should always bring insulin and a snack just for these types of emergencies.

In athletes with Type 1 diabetes, blood glucose levels can fluctuate constantly during competition. It is important to remember not to become obsessed with checking blood sugars but to have a plan. It is not checking that improves control but what is done with the results that matter.