All about diabetes and bodybuilding

Can people living with diabetes build muscle? The answer is an emphatic yes – they can and they should! Regular weight-bearing exercise can do wonders for your muscle and bone health. Strong muscles and bones protect against injury and improve balance and coordination. Bodybuilding can help you lower your blood sugar, lose weight, reduce belly fat, and reduce your risk of heart disease.

A study in Internal Journal of Cardiology found that if you’re living with type 2 diabetes, strength training can be more effective at regulating your blood sugar than cardio workouts. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that adults with type 2 diabetes have at least two or three strength training sessions a week, combined with at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity. You can learn more about what the ADA has to say about diabetes and weightlifting in this article: Anaerobic Exercise and Diabetes.

Let’s explore your options for bodybuilding, diet, and workout supplements, and their effect on diabetes.

How to gain muscle with diabetes

Weightlifting is a great way to get stronger and build muscle. Diabetes doesn’t have to stand in the way of that.

When you’re bodybuilding, you’ll need to stay on top of your diabetes. Make sure you drink enough, eat right, get enough sleep, and regularly check your blood sugar levels. Check out what the American Council on Exercise has to say about drinking before, during, and after exercising in their article “Healthy Hydration.”

How can you safely gain muscle with diabetes? First of all, start slow. There’s a value to building up your weightlifting program gradually. If you can work out with a trainer or a gym, those are nice options – it’s always good to get expert guidance about the right training plan for you.

Give resistance bands or hand-held weights a try. Don’t want to spend the money? Traveling? Your own body weight works as well!

As you explore what type of resistance training you enjoy, you can play around with several factors. Change the intensity or frequency of your workout gradually and see if it makes a difference. Add a few reps every few workouts once you feel you’re ready. You want to feel that you’re working hard, but you shouldn’t be so winded that you are out of breath. Don’t forget to warm up before and to stretch after.

Is there an ideal diabetic bodybuilding diet?

There is no specific diet for diabetes and weightlifting, but you should follow the general principles of a healthy food plan, taking into account your increased activity. Your goal: Eat foods high in nutritional value – and not too much of it.

As you think about your meals, keep these guidelines in mind:

Pick the right proteins

Eating more protein can help you lose weight and belly fat by altering your weight-regulating hormones, reducing your appetite, and boosting your metabolism.  Studies show that there are health risks associated with eating red meat regularly – especially processed meat. Note that even minor changes can make a significant difference to your long-term health. Processed meat and red meat are abundant sources of protein but there are many other possibilities.  Bacon, hot dogs, sausages, pork, and deli meats are processed meats that tend to be rich in saturated fat and salt. Try cutting down on red meat by substituting other protein-rich foods like:

  • Poultry
  • Lean red meat
  • Non-fatty cuts of pork
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Vegetarian meat substitutes

Choose healthier fats

Consuming fat is an important part of a bodybuilding diabetes diet. Fat provides you with energy and helps your body absorb vitamins. Note that certain types of fat can have a negative impact on your heart and brain. In addition, fat is high in calories and excess consumption can lead to weight gain and possibly obesity. Be smart about the amount and type of fat you eat. Choose foods rich in healthier unsaturated fat such as olive oil, salmon, and avocados instead of foods high in saturated fat such as red meat, dairy products, baked goods, and fried foods.

A note about avocados: Avocados are extremely rich in fiber, encourage weight loss, are known to help reduce high blood pressure and triglycerides, and are naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan-friendly! The best part of all? Some of the above are diabetes risk factors, which is why the fruit has been called an “anti-diabetic” powerhouse. Avocados are also a serious source of vitamins (B5, B6, C, E, and K), folate, and niacin.

Don’t drink empty calories

The ADA recommends avoiding sweetened drinks and adopting other alternatives, with an emphasis on water intake. Sugary beverages, like soda, fruit juices and sports drinks, are high in calories but offer no nutritional value. They also cause a sharp spike in blood sugar and insulin, which impacts your body’s ability to regulate weight. The best and healthiest drink is, of course, water. It has no calories, no hidden sugar or carbs, and is perfect for keeping your body hydrated and functioning efficiently.

Prepare smart snacks

There are a million ads out there promising you that this bar or that gel has all the nutritional you need. The truth is, if it comes in a package or a bag, you’re probably better off taking a pass. Many of the products that claim to be the ideal pre- or post- workout snack are full of sugar, highly processed and can play havoc with your diabetes control. Snacks are important, especially when bodybuilding – but you should stock your kitchen with nutrient-rich healthy snacks that satisfy hunger and cravings like:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Hard-cooked eggs
  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Nuts

Fill up on fiber

Any time you add fiber, you slow down the absorption of your meal, causing less of a burden to your metabolism, specifically the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. Studies show that fiber can have a positive effect on energy levels in the body, reduce the chance of sugar-spikes, and can help with weight loss.

Fiber is found mainly in fruits and vegetables but also in legumes and grains like wheat, oats, nuts, and seeds. To get the greatest health benefit, it is important to incorporate a wide variety of foods with fiber into your diet. Check nutrition labels for the amount of fiber. If you want to meet your daily requirement, eat a minimum of three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day, switch to whole grains, and add beans, peas, and lentils to your diet. Try putting fresh blueberries and nuts in your salads. Aim for at least five grams of fiber per serving.

Watch out for secret sugar sources

It is important to avoid obvious sources of sugar, such as desserts and sodas, but you should also be aware of the hidden sugar in some common processed foods, including sauces, low-fat foods, and so-called “healthy” snacks and breakfast cereals. Always read food labels to check for sugar. The closer to the beginning sugar is on the ingredients list, the greater percentage of sugar the product contains.

Go for whole grains

Whole grains are great sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, folic acid, and potassium. Eating whole grains causes a feeling of satiety and is associated with a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more. Try to make sure that at least half of the grains you eat each day are whole grains. Enjoy different types of whole grains like oats for breakfast, sandwiches using whole meal breads or rolls, whole wheat tortillas, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice barley and burghul.

Workout supplements & diabetes

Our recommendation for workout supplements: Proceed with caution! You don’t know how it will affect your diabetes, and unfortunately, there are a lot of spurious claims out there.

At best, workout supplements can be expensive and ineffective; at worst, you could suffer from serious side effects. “Safe” and “natural” are nice buzzwords, but not ones you can trust. Ingredients like sugar and caffeine can mess with your blood sugar levels and your sleep – who needs that?

So, rather than reaching for a bodybuilding supplement before your workout, grab a homemade sugar-free protein shake. Research shows that drinking a protein shake 30-60 minutes before exercising builds muscles and increases your protein synthesis.

You can also do some due diligence and see if you can find a protein powder or vitamin that works for you. Talk to your doctor, a nutritionist, or a Dario coach before taking any supplements.

Start getting stronger

We hope you now have enough information and ideas to begin weightlifting with confidence. Diabetes doesn’t have to stand in your way!

Medical Disclaimer
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.


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