Chris sent me a message saying that someone might ask me about running with type-1 diabetes. I haven’t yet heard from him/her, but it got me thinking about what I’m doing now and how it’s going. It’s not perfect, of course, but I’m actually in a pretty good place.
Let’s start with the big disclaimers. First, this is what (kinda) works for me. Your diabetes may vary; it likely will. Second, this has only recently started working for me; it could all change tomorrow. Third, it assumes that you use an insulin pump and that your basal and bolus rates are correct-ish; mine are getting there. Finally, I can’t consistently reproduce what I do in training when I’m racing; something always seems to happen.
Remember, three big things impact BGs during exercise: insulin, food, and intensity. (There are other things, but these are the big ones that you can control.)
Active Insulin: I tend to workout when I have no (or, at least, minimal) insulin on board. For example, I swim and do my long running/cycling first thing in the morning before any boluses. And when I workout in the afternoon, it’s been 4-5 hours since my lunch bolus. This means that there’s very little extra insulin to bring down my blood sugar. When I do have rather high BGs (but no ketones) because I misjudged a meal, for example, I will sometimes give myself a little insulin. I’m really conservative doing this, though, since it usually brings me down more than I think it will.
Basal Insulin: I am starting to think that changing my basal insulin has less of an effect (for me) than I had originally suspected. This might be because my basal rates are fairly low now, or it could be that my body is better at using fat and carbs together than it was in the past. Who knows? Anyway, when I run or ride my bike, I set a 30% reduction 1-2 hours before I start. Usually longer in the afternoon and shorter in the morning, since I like sleeping. When I swim, I set a 0% basal rate (i.e., no insulin) starting 45-or-so minutes before I hop in the water. There are three reasons: (1) I’m skittish when it comes to insulin and water, (2) it’s similar to what happens during triathlons, where I need to detach from my pump to leave it in transition before hopping in the water, and (3) it seems to work.
Food Before: Food is not the best part of the three for me. I want to eat more before I train, because food is fuel, and I hate running out of steam. (We’re remarkably like people without diabetes in this respect.) Food normally means insulin, which violates that whole “minimal insulin on board” thing. But I’m working on getting myself in a mindset where I can experiment with small amounts of insulin to cover pre-athletic carbs. High glycemic foods still spike my BGs when I’m working out, often more than I would like. Lower glycemic things do better, but quantity counts; 20g of carbs from Greek yoghurt about 10 minutes before I did a two-hour run worked well yesterday, the first time I tried it. Be careful here.
Food During: I tend to eat like I don’t have diabetes when I bike or run. It’s just how it works for me. I eat an energy gel every 45 minutes to keep up my energy. I also carry a full tube of glucose tablets with me, just in case. And I drink water. Water is important.
Food and Insulin After: I find that I always need to give myself insulin after I’m done exercising. I haven’t yet figured out how much to give, but I usually bolus the full amount of any correction I would need (or enough to bring me down 25 mg/dL [1.5 mmol] if my BGs are in range). After really hard workouts, I like a protein-rich snack with carbs. (Odwalla’s Chocolate Protein Monster is my favorite.) These carbs and protein are important for recovery, and I find it necessary to bolus the full amount for this snack, even though I will eventually be more insulin sensitive for the next 24 hours after big workouts.
Frequency: It helps to have a regular frequency, usually three or four times per week (or more). If I workout at least this often—although I can’t remember the last time I did less—my insulin sensitivity stays much more “normal” than if I don’t. Consistency is key.
Supplies: I bring these things with me on my workouts.
- A full tube of glucose tablets
- My pump (enclosed in a Zip-Lock bag to keep perspiration from killing it)
- My BG meter when I go on longer runs or when I’m curious about what’s happening on shorter outings. I use the OneTouch Ultra Mini just for exercise.
- Energy gels. I’m not very brand-loyal; I like vanilla and chocolate Gu and Clif Shots and just about any Hammer Gel flavor.
- Water (in a FuelBelt Sprint Palm Holder)
- I also carry about $10-15 with me in case I need to buy some extra food.
There are some other things I like, but they don’t have anything to do with diabetes preparedness. I have a Petzl Tikka headlamp, which is great for running on these dark afternoon; I’ve never had a jacket as nice as my Asics one; and I need shorts and pants with pockets . . . and a drawstring. (Without the drawstring, all of the extra stuff in my pockets makes ‘em fall right off.)
Good luck! And just remember, do whatever works; there’s no single right way.