The mystery of the high-intensity exercise blood sugar spike solved.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced with T1D (and still continue to face to this day) is exercise. At first it was mainly anxiety about being overweight and unsure of what to do, but I’ve come a long way since then. Now it’s not the actuality of exercising that’s the problem for me, it’s trying to anticipate how my body will react while I’m exercising. What will my sometimes unpredictable blood sugar do today? Diabetes is not an exact science, but I like to think I have a pretty tight handle on it. However when it comes to exercise, sometimes anyone’s guess is as good as mine. Blood sugar levels can be affected by any little disturbance in the body. Even if you aren’t sick but are fighting off a little cold, or yes even menstruation will cause your blood sugars to go crazy. Anyone who exercises regularly with T1D has most likely had the following experience, and if so it probably frustrated you and pissed you off like it did me for so long before I realized what was happening.
Ok here’s the scenario: Your blood sugar before starting a workout is in a good range for working out (for me I prefer to be somewhere in the range of 115-140) and you get going. Sidebar, this mainly happens during a high intensity workout such as circuit training, crossfit, sprinting, fast-paced classes like Zumba or bootcamp, anything that really gets your heart rate going quickly. About 5-15 minutes into the workout you begin feeling a notable drop in energy and symptoms of high blood sugar like nausea, extreme fatigue, etc. but you chalk it up to being tired from all that effort and you push through the workout and keep pushing, or it gets to be too much and you have to stop. Then you check your blood sugar again when you’re done 20-40 minutes later and its really high, like 100+ mg/dl more than when you started. This used to perplex and upset me to no end. I thought if I was working out so hard why the hell would my blood sugar be going up?? Shouldn’t all that activity be bringing it down? Was there something else wrong with me?
Then one day I figured out what was going on, well, someone helped me figure it out. While in Personal Training school I was lucky to have a teacher that was outstanding at his job. Not only had he been a body-builder in the past, a Personal Trainer for over 25 years, but he was like a walking Wikipedia of human anatomy and physiology, let’s just call him B. There were 12 people in my class at the time and he would set up circuits for us from time to time to challenge us in our daily workouts. One day I had this experience during one of these circuits, so bad that I had to stop so I didn’t vomit and mess up the circuit for everyone else. After the workout, B found me back in the classroom visibly upset and asked me what happened. I told him that when I started the workout my blood sugar was 137 and 15 minutes later it was 287 and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t finish the circuit.
Instead of just outright telling me why this happened he made me figure it out, which is one of the many reasons B remains the best teacher I have ever had. You see, I knew the pancreas job was to release insulin and that mine didn’t. For some reason I hadn’t made the connection that even though my pancreas was no longer producing the hormone insulin, it was still performing its other functions, one of which is releasing the hormone glucagon, which raises your blood sugar. Normally when the body realizes that it is under a high level of physical exertion (exercise) it releases glucagon to fuel the body with extra glucose to help push you through. When you have diabetes you don’t need that extra boost of glucagon to get you through the workout but your body doesn’t know that and releases it anyway, leading to the big spike in blood sugar levels.
Now that I know this I feel more empowered and it helps me plan better for the type of workout I’m going to do. Unfortunately knowing this doesn’t mean that I still don’t have this experience, but it does mean that I check my blood sugars 5-10-15 minutes into the workout so that I can correct right away before too much detriment is done. Yes it is a pain in the ass, but surrendering to laziness sounds like way worse pain to me. Now that you know this it’s just another reason to be more confident to step up and Dominate!
Have you ever had this experience before? Or a different diabetes/exercise related incident? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! Let’s share and grow stronger together!