crop unrecognizable sportsman showing bicep in gym

Bulking with type 1 diabetes

For many people the cold months mean it is bulking season! Gaining muscle has some incredible health benefits when done and maintained correctly. Keep reading for my tips on what to do and what to avoid!

In my opinion yo-yoing from bulking to cutting every winter and summer is unsustainable and a potential unhealthy cycle to get into. The thought that we always have to change our bodies to be ‘seasonal’ and to look good is distorted. Gaining muscle should be a long-term dietary and lifestyle change in order to better your health, not to ‘fit in’ with the ‘ideal body standards’ social media thrusts upon us.

Of course part of the reason people bulk is to ‘look better’, but we need to go deeper and use other means of motivation and discipline to achieve goals. Loving your body, less anxiety, feeling energised, getting better sleep are all fantastic reasons to set fitness goals like muscle gain.

So, if you are looking to gain some muscle whilst keeping your sugars on track, lets look at what you need to consider!

Sugar level control changes will happen

bulking season

If you are living with diabetes, you will mostly likely already know that routine changes = sugar level changes.

This does not mean gaining muscle can’t be done when living with diabetes, it just means we have to be strategic, look at sugar level trends and adapt to new routines.

Sugar level fluctuations depend on the type of exercise you are doing. If you swap from endurance to weight focused training, your levels can start to spike.

Of course this depends on the person, but it is very common to have hypers while weight lifting. This could mean you might need a small correction dose before or near the beginning of your workout to keep in range.

Furthermore, increasing carbs, fat and protein in accordance with higher energy demands will require more insulin.

My best advice is to talk with your doctor, consultant and/or a nutritionist for the best transition and results. This will allow you to adjust your insulin to carb ratio and correction dose.

Insulin sensitivity could change

One thing to note if you are trying to gain muscle, fluctuation in insulin sensitivity will most likely happen.

What you could notice is your sugar levels are remaining high, despite using your insulin to carb ratio. The change in insulin sensitivity can be due to increased adrenaline and other hormone fluctuations. If you start to struggle with this, definitely chat to your diabetes consultant or consult with a nutritionist specialised in diabetes.

One tip I found really useful is to continue with cardio during bulking. It doesn’t have to be a lot of cardio, but walking, running or completing HIIT can help to promote insulin sensitivity as well as muscle gain.

The correct nutrition can also limit insulin resistance, so keep reading for my nutrition tips.

Protein for bulking

Gym lads are often OBSESSED with protein! Don’t get me wrong, this is a vital macronutrient for bulking, BUT there are other nutrients that are often neglected and are also fundamental.

The idea of ‘eat whatever you can get your hands on’ while bulking is absolutely not the way to go. If you are prioritising fast and processed foods to pack calories in, this will be detrimental to your health. You might gain what you want, but this can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and make diabetes control so much harder.

Eating a diet high in refined carbs, saturated fat and low quality protein decreases insulin sensitivity, which will decrease exercise performance as well as limiting muscle gain.

eggs for bulking

So opt for high quality protein sources: (if you can go for organic, grass-fed meat)

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Cod
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Chickpeas
  • Edamame beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lentils

Other nutrients to prioritise

salmon for bulking

Other nutrients to prioritise are omega-3 fatty acids, if you are eating lots of animal protein which is high in omega-6, this can cause too much inflammation and delayed exercise recovery. So eat the following to balance this out and to promote exercise recovery:

  • Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring 2-3 times per week
  • Handful walnuts or 2 tbsp chia seeds, or 2 tbsp flaxseeds everyday (e.g. in a smoothie, oats or yogurt)

Omega-3 fatty acids also helps to promote insulin sensitivity, which will help with glucose control, cholesterol balance and better exercise performance! So prioritise polyunsaturated fats over saturated fats.

Finally, make sure you are eating plenty of antioxidants, magnesium, iron and potassium – which all help with muscle growth and recovery. Aim for 7 a day (one portion of fruit/veg is roughly 80g) and make sure you are including some of the following everyday:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Banana
  • Raw cacao powder
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Avocado
  • Beans and lentils

Thank you for reading bulking with type 1 diabetes! I really hope this way useful and helps you to achieve your fitness goals without sacrificing time in range. Be sure to subscribe and follow me on Instagram!

If you liked this post, be sure to check out How to handle a hypo mid-workout! and my Simple guide to fitness with diabetes!