Running and Blood Sugar Control – Lessons Learned

“Prediabetes means you have blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes…  If you have prediabetes, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.” (Source: NIH)

The week before Boston Marathon 2014, I was diagnosed as “prediabetic.”  I had failed the 2 hour glucose test and my A1C test results came back elevated.

My doctor: Eat less carbs, lose some weight.  Oh and start an exercise program

Me: Um…Does marathon training count?

I wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis.  With both of my pregnancies, I had gestational diabetes and was informed that it raised my risk for type 2 diabetes.  Knowing the risks, I started running as soon as I was medically cleared after having my second baby.  In the year after my second son was born, I ran a 5K, 10-miler, two half marathons, and a marathon — and even with losing all the baby weight within 4 months of giving birth, I could not escape prediabetes. (I know, I’m whining).

So I did what every normal, rational person would do – I Googled “prediabetes.”  There is a lot of information on the Internet for managing blood sugar, preventing type 2 diabetes.  However.  I was not able to find much information on prediabetes and endurance sports (perhaps I have not found the right key words to search).

I’m not going to lie. Part of the reason I run is so that I can eat cupcakes, ice cream, all the fun, sugary stuff.  And I love carb-loading before a big race.  I love pasta, rice. Now with my new diagnosis, I had to find a new balance with the amount of carbs I *think* I need for running.  The following is a list of lessons I have learned SO FAR from my research and experiences.  I hope to share future lessons with all the prediabetic and diabetic endurance athletes and invite your input!

[DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical or nutritional professional.  Just a fellow prediabetic runner trying to figure out what to eat and when to eat in order to best manage my blood sugar levels.]

1.  Everyone is Different. 

One message I found to be consistent in most of the literature is that different foods’ effect on blood sugar levels can vary drastically in each person.  For example, when I eat pineapples, it spikes my blood sugar but when a diabetic friend eats pineapples, the rise in her blood sugar level is not as drastic.  Also, the time of day matters as well.  I find that my blood sugar is the most sensitive in the morning.  Some of articles online recommend people to eat the carbs early on during the day so you can burn off the sugar all day – well, it doesn’t work for me. I can only eat small amount of carbs (less than 25 grams) in the morning, unless I’m going out for a run.

2.  Not JUST About Cutting Carbs.

One mistake that I made initially was just cutting carbs.  I didn’t go fully Atkin’s diet, but I significantly reduced the amount of carbs I consumed.  This did manage to help me lose weight… initially.  After two weeks of carb-cutting, I went out for a 10-mile run.  About 8 miles in, I started to feel dizzy, my muscles tightened and cramped.  My blood sugar had dropped to such a low-level that it was not only hurting my performance but extremely dangerous!  I quickly took 2 Gu’s and sat down.  Diabetes is not just about lowering blood sugar, it is about controlling and managing it.

3.  Get a Blood Glucose Meter

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The previous lesson leads me to this: bottom line, I need to carefully monitor blood sugar levels with a meter.  But this is tricky.  Prediabetes is not a “covered” condition under some health insurances (mine).  So the test strips for these devices can be very expensive.  Luckily I have some left over from my gestational diabetes days and plan to use that until I run out.  This is worth it to me to make sure I stay healthy, I consider it an investment.

4.  Keep a Log

I have decided to meet with a nutritionist and having data helps tremendously.  I JUST started to keep track of my blood glucose level for the following times in a spreadsheet for my weekend long runs (runs that take more than 1 hour).  I try to write down the amount of carbs consumed before, during and after a run and WHAT food was eaten.  Hopefully this will eventually help me determine what works best for me to optimize my performance.

Time/When Carbs (grams) Blood Glucose (mg/dL) Comments
Fasting (wake up) 0 Eat breakfast after taking blood glucose and at least 1 hour before run
Before Run (breakfast carbs amount) Taken just before the long run
1 Hr Into Run (Gu or Sport Bean taken) I have started to try different foods to test how my blood sugar is affected
2 Hr Into Run (Gu or Sport Bean taken)
1 Hr After Run (Food eaten immediately after run) I try to eat within 30 mins of completing a run

5. Plan Ahead

Running and taking blood glucose levels can be challenging.  Planning ahead helps.  Trial and error helps too.  If you’re like me, especially in the summer, I am a sweaty mess when I’m running.  If you use a blood glucose meter, you know that sweat on your finger tips will mess with your reading.  I try to keep a towel at a convenient point on the trail and I make sure that roughly every hour I run by that point to take my readings.

It is a pain in the butt to have to do this during a run but it is temporary.  Hopefully after I have taken quite a few of these readings, I will get to a point where I know exactly what to eat and when to eat it on my run that I don’t need to continue to take my blood glucose levels.

These are just some of the lessons I have learned so far.  I’m sure there will be many, many more.  I hope whom ever reads this post will benefit from this and please do leave me any suggestions if you’re an experienced diabetic, endurance athlete, I would love to learn from you as well.

Stay Healthy.  Stay Strong.  Run.

 

 

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