Exercise and Hypoglycemia

Your brain and you body uses serum glucose in your blood as a mainstay of energy. To function properly, you body relies on this sugar in your blood. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs when blood glucose fall below a level that prevents your body from operating efficiently.  Exercise can trigger hypoglycemia, so working out with the condition requires knowledge and preparation of potential interventions.

Here’s a step-by-step guide that might work for you.

Step 1: Make sure to measure your serum glucose level before your workout. Exercising responsibly with this condition requires frequent blood glucose testing. It is important that you know your numbers before exercise so that you can intervene if your numbers are too low.

 Step 2: Eat a healthy snack, such as apple slices and a handful of nuts, if you need to raise your serum glucose level before beginning exercise. This type of snack is ideal before exertion, as the carbohydrate from the apple will raise your blood sugar, and the protein from the nuts will help you maintain a healthy glucose level throughout your workout.

Step 3: Before exercise, avoid hypoglycemia triggers such as fasting, eating large meals and drinking alcohol. Eating large – particularly high-carbohydrate – meals puts you at risk for a post-meal blood glucose crash. Stick with several small nutritious meals spaced evenly throughout the day. Also, alcohol’s effects on the liver can make blood-sugar regulation challenging.

 Step 4: Comply with your doctor’s suggested prescription medication regimen to allow for steady blood glucose control. If you take medications for diabetes — either oral or insulin — these can cause hypoglycemia shortly after taking them. It is best to wait several hours before exercising after taking these medications.

 Step 5: Listen to your body during your workout, and know the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Early symptoms include headache, cold sweats, irritability and shaking. Other symptoms you may notice include unequal pupil size and paleness. If you notice any of these symptoms is the best time to intervene. You should always remember that hypoglycemia can progress to seizures, fainting and even coma, constituting a medical emergency.

 Step 6: Consider working out with a partner and carry hypoglycemia interventions with you. Before working out, pack several small snacks, each containing approximately 15 g of carbohydrate. If your hypoglycemia is severe enough that your doctor prescribes glucose injections, keep them with you, and instruct someone you trust regarding administering the injection should you lose consciousness.

 Step 7: Measure your post-workout blood glucose level. During exercise, your body requires more fuel to get you through your routine, and you are using glucose more rapidly than at rest. This step is also important to avoid the crash that can occur from your body’s increased metabolic needs during your workout. To avoid such a crash, a healthy snack is always a good post-exercise intervention.

Note: I am not a medical practitioner, medical questions should always be directed to your doctor.

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