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!


Simple guide to fitness with diabetes!

We all know how important exercising is for our overall health, from decreasing the risk of having health problems, such as obesity and heart disease, to reducing stress and anxiety. Exercise also plays a fundamental part in lowering HbA1c and helping to keep glucose readings in range.

Many people living with diabetes know that exercise is important, but might need some guidance about what type of exercise to do, and how to avoid slipping into a hypo during and after exercise.

Keep reading for a simple guide to different types of exercise, and how they might impact your glucose readings!

LISS (Low Intensity Steady State Training)

LISS training is activity that takes place over a longer period of time and is less intense. It is recommended that 30 minutes is completed everyday, that can be walking, jogging, cycling or swimming.

woman girl silhouette jogger

This type of training is great for lowering overall sugar levels, and I find walking to be the best treatment for a hyper, alongside an insulin correction dose. But, a lot of people slip into a hypo very quickly during LISS training.

So, to prepare for LISS training I would recommend making sure your sugar levels are steady at around 7.0-8.0mmol/L before exercising, and potentially decreasing your insulin dose very slightly before your session. Always make sure you have water and a source of glucose with you at all times when exercising.

Keep an eye on your sugar levels for a few hours following exercise to make sure you don’t drop into a hypo.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

cold snow internet winter

HIIT are circuit type workouts, where you have periods of very intense training, followed by rest periods, for example 1 minute of sprinting, followed by 30 seconds of rest.

This type of training is perfect for a busy day when you are pressed for time. HIIT can sometimes cause sugar levels to rise initially due to a surge of adrenaline, but shortly after, sugar levels can drop quite rapidly. So if you notice that your levels are rising during a workout, make sure you don’t over-correct.

HIIT can also continue to burn calories for hours after finishing a session, so bear in mind it could cause a hypo during this time too. I recommend having a balanced snack afterwards containing carbs, a source of protein and fat. This should help to avoid a sudden hypo after your workout.

Weight Lifting / Resistance Training

Weight lifting and resistance training are super important to incorporate into your routine. The benefits of this type of training include building muscle, strengthening bones, and increasing metabolism. Resistance training can be split into two categories, heavy training and light training.

person holding barbell

All resistance training will increase your strength, build muscle and improve endurance, but you can tailor your training to fit your specific goals.

If you want to build more muscle mass, focus on training heavier weights and less reps (I’d say 10 reps or less per set). However, if you want to build general strength and tone, opt for lighter weights and more reps (10-20 reps per set).

In terms of sugar levels, resistance training can actually have the opposite effect to your sugar levels. Generally I find that heavy resistance training can cause sugar levels to increase, and I have heard the same from some other people living with Type 1. So if the same happens to your sugars when lifting weights, I would recommend to not train if your glucose levels are 9.0mmol/L or above.

Furthermore, I would leave your insulin dose before exercise the same, or even increase it a tiny bit. I like to increase my dose by either half a unit, or one unit. If you have a CGM or flash glucose monitor take full advantage of this, keep track of what your sugar levels are doing, make comparisons and then make adjustments to your insulin dose, and what you are eating before and after exercise.

If you are opting for lighter resistance training, this can mimic cardio based exercise meaning your levels might drop. Bear this in mind, and prepare as you would for cardio based training.

Yoga / Pilates

Stretching can sometimes be overlooked, and a lot of people are shocked by the benefits of yoga and pilates when they start training it.

Some advantages of stretching can include increased flexibility, protection from injury and help with muscle tone and strengthening. I would recommend performing a form of stretching everyday, as it aids recovery and is great at helping you to relax.

In general yoga and pilates will not impact sugar levels too much, depending on the intensity. Of course more intense yoga sessions may cause sugar levels to drop, but a gentle stretch will not impact sugar levels.

photo of woman doing yoga

Some final tips

Ideally all forms of exercise should be completed regularly, because each type contributes to the health and overall function of the body.

If you are trying out a new form of exercise, definitely pay close attention to what your sugar levels do, so you can put measures in place to keep sugars as balanced. This will contribute to you getting the best results and the most out of the workout.

Also take full advantage of the psychological benefits of exercise, and enjoy it! I would always recommend choosing exercise that you want to do. If you feel forced to take part in certain types of exercise it can strip the benefits and have a negative impact on your mindset. So if you hate running but love walking, walk instead!

Thank you for reading my simple guide to exercise with diabetes! I really hope you can take some tips away and try something new! Always remember that you can do anything while living with diabetes, you just have to be prepared.

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