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Carbohydrate Adjustments for Exercisers with Diabetes

Many people with diabetes have special needs that should be considered when planning an exercise program.

Exercise can cause your blood glucose levels to drop too much, especially if you take insulin or other glucose-lowering medications. Symptoms of hypoglycemia, or "low blood sugar," include feeling shaky, lightheaded, weak, confused, anxious, fatigued, irritable, or hungry, headache, breaking out into a clammy sweat, or even fainting.

Hypoglycemia can happen during exercise, right after exercise, or even up to 24 hours after you finish exercising. Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be mild and gradual; but it is more common that symptoms come on very quickly. By paying close attention to how you’re feeling, you can prevent problems before they put you at risk of injury.

Because of the risk of hypoglycemia, you should always check your blood glucose level before you exercise. Having a carbohydrate containing snack prior to exercising is one way to prevent exercise related hypoglycemia. Use the chart below to make the recommended adjustments, based on your glucose reading, before you exercise. Click here for a detailed, printable chart that shows single (15-gram) servings of carbohydrate-containing foods.

Adjustments Based on Blood Glucose Levels Before Exercise
Exercise Duration & Intensity <100 mg/dL 100-180 mg/dL 180-250 mg/dL
< 30 min. at low intensity Eat 15 g carbohydrate N/A N/A
30-60 min. at moderate intensity Eat 15 g carbohydrate 100-120: Eat 15 g carbohydrate. 121-180: N/A N/A
30-60 min. at high intensity Eat 30 g carbohydrate Eat 15 g carbohydrate N/A
> 60 minutes at moderate intensity* Eat 15 g carbohydrate per hour of activity Eat 15 g of carbohydrate per hour of activity After 1 hour of activity, eat 15 grams carbohydrate
  • Examples of low-intensity exercise: yoga, leisurely walking or biking
  • Examples of moderate-intensity exercise: vigorous walking, swimming, tennis
  • Examples of high-intensity exercise: running, Spinning, aerobics or kickboxing
  • Examples of long-duration (60+ minutes) moderate-intensity exercise:team sports, golfing, cycling or swimming
*Retest your blood glucose after each hour of activity and follow recommendations based on your reading. Contact your physician if you experience symptoms of hypoglycemia during or after exercise for 2 or more consecutive days.

For more specific information or help, talk to your health care provider. The American Diabetes Association's National Call Center also offers live advice from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday at 1-800-DIABETES or 1-800-342-2383.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Amy Poetker, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator.
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Member Comments

Great article and very helpful. Report
Well, I did learn how to take control of the awful lows Report
Great article. Packed with good information. Thanks SP! Report
Helped explain some info. Report
Thanks for the article Report
If you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't be eating it. Report
I am learning a lot. Thank You, SparkPeople . Report
I have been a type 2 diabetic for several years but am still struggling with denial. I set a lot of small goals and one not so small - to lose 130 lbs. But I like Dacia73's goal even more and will add it to mine. That is to get off diabetic medication all together. This chart is very useful in drawing attention to carbs contained in foods. Report
I'm very excited to be apart of this group. I made the commitment to change my life and get off my insulin for good. This is my first short term goal on my long journey and I can't wait to share my failures and victories along the way. Good luck and I wish you much strength and courage on your own journeys. Remember, the only one standing in your way of success is you! Report
I am not sure how this site will work for me, and if people are still reading this, but I sure could use some insight as I learn to live with and beat Type 2 diabetes. So, I am looking forward to reading how you are succeeding at weight loss and glucose control. Report
I'm so excited that I found this awesome group of people, who can understand the same things that I'm going through with my weight, and the hard road it's been, I want to live and do things I've never done because of my weight, and to start living my life and making future plans. I cant wait to get started on my future, And I have others to be right there with me, we understand each other and hopefully I may be able to help some else along the way!!! yeah!!! Report
Just want to say good luck to all of you., I wish you all the best . I joined this group to learn more, for the past five months my test have come out borderline, my doctor said if I can't get it down she will put me on pills. I am really going to try to avoid that. Report
I have Diabetes Type 1 and I am struggling not even with my weight, but my glucose levels from high to low ! It is frustrating .... I absolutely love this article and this site as well. Tomorrow is my first day on diet, so wish me luck ;)
This is very helpful. I do 1 hr on the elliptical every day and often feel a little shaky afterwards. Its so hard not to run for the first high-carb thing I see afterwards. Maybe carbing up a little before my workout will help. Report


About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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