Cycling is a great way to keep active as it can be carried out at whatever pace and intensity you choose. However, for the more keen and competitive cyclist, the aerobic challenges are increased. Like with any sport, the more keenly you participate, the more careful management your blood sugar levels will need.
Diabetes management and cycling
The casual cyclist with type 1 diabetes
As with anything, you will expend more energy the longer you cycle. It is important to keep your energy levels as high as possible so your doctor or nurse may recommend consuming small quantities of glucose at regular intervals. For a short 20-30 minute ride, taking on board a small amount of sugar halfway through is often enough. But, like always, it is best to get in contact with your healthcare professional in order to get specific advice on how to manage your diabetes whilst cycling.
If covering a longer distance, frequent blood glucose testing will be required. To get an understanding of the trend your blood sugar is taking, it is generally recommended that the first test should be taken before you start, then 20 minutes into the ride and with subsequent tests at 30 minute intervals. Always contact your healthcare professional before making changes to your diabetes management.
You should also carefully monitor your blood sugars in the hours after your ride as hypos can occur hours after your ride as your muscles use glycogen to refuel themselves.
The keen cyclist with type 1 diabetes
Sticking to a regular and fixed pre cycle food strategy and schedule will allow you to gain a better understanding of how your body reacts to certain levels of exercise and whether or not you need to consider adjusting your insulin doses before you cycle. If you believe that this is best course of action, make sure you contact your healthcare professional before doing so. Learning how to properly count carbohydrates and experimenting with different strategies will also aid in creating a schedule.
It is a good idea to make sure you are carrying enough fuel to sustain you throughout the entirety of the ride. Also, it is advised that you carry insulin with you in case your blood glucose levels are high when testing. Experienced cyclists that are riding for several hours and have stuck to a routine that they know works may be okay to leave the period between blood testing for longer intervals. For specific advice on the intervals you should leave contact your healthcare professional.
You need to make sure that you are able to act quickly to prevent your blood sugars dropping further in the event of a hypo. Low blood sugars will require you to stop immediately to combat this. If you are unable to recognise the signs of a hypo, speaking to a healthcare professional to get more information is the best way to learn.
Cycling with type 2 diabetes
If you have been prescribed insulin or insulin stimulating medication then you may need to add to your carbohydrate intake or reduce the dosage of these medications. However, you need to speak to your healthcare professional before making any changes to the dosage of your medication.
If you have a blood sugar testing machine, make sure you are testing your blood glucose levels frequently during and after you exercise to keep a track of whether your blood sugars are dropping.
One last tip
One issue that you have probably thought of by now is the tricky act of testing your blood sugars during a ride. A common way that this is negated is by strapping your testing kit to the handle bars of your bicycle. This will allow you to test quicker as it is readily available for you when you stop to test.
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