Diabetes: Should You Eat Before or After Working Out?


Whether it is better to eat before or after exercise is the age-old question that has plagued the health and fitness community.

But the debate becomes even more complicated when you throw diabetes into the mix. Monet S. Bland, a diabetes educator and physiologist at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, says that diabetes patients don’t just think about food as fuel for energy during exercise, but also a way to control their glycemic levels.

Fueling up the right way before, during and after workout is absolutely crucial for people with type 2 diabetes who have a greater risk of suffering from hypoglycemia

Paying Attention to Glucose Levels

Fueling up the right way before, during and after workout is absolutely crucial for people with type 2 diabetes who want to get the most bang out of their exercise buck. Exercising directly affects your blood sugar which is why you need to make sure that your levels aren’t too high when you start your workout or too low that they plummet below dangerous levels while you’re exercising.

Although studies have shown in the past that exercising on an empty stomach can burn more fat, people with diabetes need to eat a pre-workout meal to maintain their glycemic levels during the sweat session. Bland says that sometimes, diabetics may even find it necessary to reach for a snack during exercise and have a high carb meal afterwards to replenish their glucose levels.

But there isn’t one approach to nutrition that suits everyone’s needs which is why it is important to listen to your body and look for signs that indicate an increase or decrease in blood glucose levels. People who are more sensitive to exercise may need to pay more attention to what they eat before and afterwards than those who don’t experience a lot of fluctuations in their sugar levels.

In order to figure out the best way to fuel your body before and exercise, Bland recommends consulting an endocrinologist or a physiologist who can put you on a safe exercise plan and give you the blood glucose targets that you must maintain throughout the workout.

What to Eat?

Whether you should eat before or after you exercise depends on your blood sugar at that specific time. Check your sugar level before heading to the gym to determine how you need to fuel up.

If your levels are lower than 100 milligrams per deciliter, you need a high carb snack or a small meal before your workout, but if it is over 300 milligrams per deciliter, you’re better off skipping the workout or waiting until the sugar level drops to just above 100 mg/dL. For more accurate blood sugar targets, consult your doctor or physiologist.

Diabetics are advised to keep their glucose levels between 100 to 300 milligrams per deciliter before exercising

Before Workout

People with type 2 diabetes are advised to eat a balanced meal rich in protein, healthy fats and moderate amount of carbs almost an hour before exercising. Lori Zanini, who creates meal plans for diabetics, recommends 30 grams of fiber-rich carbohydrates, almost 4 ounces of protein and no more than 10 grams of healthy fats. To top it off, diabetics are advised to help themselves to two servings of non-starchy vegetables for micronutrients.

During Workout

Fueling yourself during the workout is just as important as having a pre-workout meal, especially when you’re doing a high intensity session which can quickly deplete your blood sugar. Always remember to pack a snack with 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates and keep it close by during the workout. Some health experts recommend their clients to carry a serving of dried fruit with them in case hypoglycemia occurs.

After Workout

Exercise is a great way for diabetes patients to manage their blood sugar levels. With consistent physical activity, your body learns to use insulin more efficiently but lowered blood sugar levels after exercise creates a ‘lag effect’ which can increase your risk of hypoglycemia. To counter this effect, experts recommend eating a snack within first 15 minutes of finishing the workout session.

An ideal snack should have between 15 to 20 grams of carbs, which can be found in half a sweet potato, one cup of berries or ½ cup of oatmeal. Apart from that, nutritionists suggest adding a good source of protein such as cottage cheese, nuts or whey protein powder to retain muscle mass.