Diabetes & Exercise during the Summer

Lauren Plunkett, RDN LD

Summer is almost here and the sun is shining! Longer daylight hours encourage us to blossom with energy, stay up later, and be more physically active. Caring for our bodies with regular exercise and healthy eating supports a healthy body weight and mental alertness. It also reduces risk factors and complications of uncontrolled diabetes.

Planning Exercise

Exercise and eating healthy is important for everyone. When you live with Type 1 diabetes the goal is to keep blood sugar in a safe range before, during, and after exercise. This requires prior planning and consistent testing for any type of physical activity.  Also, exercise can affect blood sugar in different ways depending on the sport, duration, and intensity. For the best outcome have a plan to prevent low blood sugar and always test soon before the start of exercise.

As a general guideline, the goal is to start with blood sugar in the safe range of 120-1801, and if in this range eat 15 grams of fast acting carbohydrates without taking insulin. If blood sugar is below 100 additional carbohydrates may be necessary.

For activities that last an hour or more, test blood sugar at least every 60 minutes. For competitive athletes, it is reasonable to eat 15-30 grams of carbohydrates per hour. The idea is to use nutrition to keep sugars safely controlled, while providing the energy necessary to keep up with the demands of physical activity.

The amount of carbohydrates needed throughout the duration of exercise is unique to each athlete and each sport. The right approach is to test blood sugars frequently to find out what works best for you and eat a consistently healthy diet. Food is fuel for our bodies, after all!

Always keep small snacks close by that do not melt. Examples of fast acting carbohydrates: bananas, grapes, graham crackers, granola bars, 4 oz juice boxes, plain animal crackers, and Fig Newtons. Remember to keep track of how many carbohydrates you are eating during exercise or between games. This will help to develop a plan for the future.

Hydration is equally as important as your food choices when preparing for exercise. Drinking water throughout the day is critical, especially outside in the sun. Be cautious with flavored sports drinks that are often loaded with carbohydrates and added sugar. G2 is the lower carb version of Gatorade that can be sipped on during activity when a lot of sweat is lost.


What types of foods are the best for activity? Carbohydrates!

Protein is supportive of muscle gain, but without enough carbohydrates blood sugar may drop during exercise and increase the chance of overnight lows. Lack of carbohydrates can also negatively affect athletic performance and mental focus. Also, replacing carbohydrates burned during activity with balanced meals and snacks is equally as important as making healthy choices every day.

Most importantly, the first priority is to have fun! Team sports are not the only option and community resources provide the chance to explore many different activities including nature walks, martial arts, biking, rowing, dodge ball, ping pong, and adaptive recreation. All you need is the curiosity to try.


  • The American Diabetes Association recommends that children and adolescents should exercise for 60 minutes or more every day. Start slowly if exercise is new, and set realistic goals. Walking around the block can lead to running a mile eventually.
  • Find motivation in music. Set up a 60 minute play list of favorites to help keep time when playing. When the music stops your daily dose of movement is complete, but no need to stop there if you’re having fun!
  • There are dozens of recreation centers in the twin cities and surrounding areas. Search these website to find the many different activities offered: St. Paul activities, Minneapolis activities
  • For serious athletes with type 1 diabetes consult with a Registered Dietitian to determine specific food and hydration needs. Personalizing a nutrition plan is an important part in the prevention of high and low blood sugars, and for sports performance.


  1. Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics; Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition practice group (SCAN).