Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Fuel On Rides When You Have Diabetes

by Joanna K. Chodorowska, BA, NC, TPTH -- April, 2013


You Have Diabetes - Can You Really Ride Carb-Free?

The one thing I keep hearing from people with diabetes is that they don't (or think they shouldn't) take on any carbs when they're riding.  They'll go out for a 3, 4, 5 hour ride of anywhere from 50-100 miles and they won't eat anything! They're conditioned to be afraid of carbs - but you need fuel on those efforts.  It's a matter of knowing how much to ingest and how often, as well as which kind of carbs to take in.  It is confusing - everyone reacts differently and has different needs.  I will try to review some basic sports nutrition issues that apply to cyclists with diabetes, as well as every day cyclists.

The Basics

 First off, you need to balance the blood sugars all day long with eating regularly spaced meals.  You want to include in each of those meals a little bit of high quality protein, a little bit of high quality carbohydrate, a lot of green vegetables and some fat.  You are like a wood burning stove, and we need to find the right kind of logs to put into your fire.  If you don’t put in any ‘carbs’, you won’t get that fire to burn.  If you put in too many, then you will spike the blood sugar which also results in a sugar crash within 60-90 minutes later.  While you exercise, this mechanism of releasing insulin to lower glucose levels is impaired even in athletes who do not have diabetes.  So you want to make sure you do not spike the blood sugar by eating too many simple carbohydrates while riding, but even during your regular day.

Fueling Options

The key with the carbohydrate intake is to realize that there are many sources of carbohydrates. We need those carbs for our brains to function, and we need our muscles to be able to endure hours of exercise by consuming them.   

There are many forms to choose from: grains (bread, pasta, cookies, etc), root vegetables (sweet potatoes, potatoes, beets, celery root, turnips, rutabaga, etc), fruit and beans to name most of them.   

Then there are the simple sugars which are the candy, the cookies, the processed foods, some sports nutrition bars, gels, etc which may be things you do want to avoid as they are the things that can spike that blood sugar and put you in harm’s way while riding.   

If you can learn to balance the blood sugars better when not exercising, then the body will start to use more fat for fuel than carbohydrates; this means you can use less carbs but it does not mean NO carbs.  

Fueling Guidance

When starting an exercise plan, be sure you do have some of your fueling options handy.  You may want to stock your pockets with a few baked sweet potatoes sliced up with peanut or almond butter in between.  This is actually a much better option than most of the store bought bars.  A basic granola bar is better than some of the sports bars!  You may want to bring at least ½ potato per hour of riding.  There are a few bars that are low in sugar like Vega Sports’ Endurance bar.  This is the bar I personally use.  You will also want to make sure you have some kind of electrolyte replacement drink in your water bottle, but I would not suggest any store bought Gatorade (or similar) unless you dilute it by half (for more info on hydration, see "Hydration - Don't Cramp Out!").  But also steer clear of the artificial sweeteners in your drinks. 

  • You will want to get about 150-200 calories per hour from carbohydrates during your rides. 
  • Less than that, and you will run out of energy. 
  • More than 300 calories and you will get stomach upset. 

So there is a happy balance, but you need to test out several options to find out what works best for you.

Listen to Your Body, Fuel Up Safely

As a sports nutritionist, I work with athletes to help them use real foods to perform at their best.  For those with diabetes, the challenge to balance the blood sugar is more important.  We help you learn to listen to what your body is telling you and know what to do when it says it needs food, hydration or something else.  Don’t be confused, and please do not go riding for more than 2 hours without taking any carbohydrates with you.  Choose your carbs wisely so you won’t spike the blood sugar.  But please avoid the no-carb plan - you might not make it as far as you wanted.  And we want cycling to be enjoyable and healthy especially if you have diabetes!

Joanna K Chodorowska, BA, NC, TPTH is a sports nutrition coach helping athletes improve their performance, reaction time, and faster recovery using real foods. For more information how to balance your blood sugar and how to lose body fat and other sports nutrition related topics, please visit .  Joanna provides her clients with realistic, real food options that fit into their busy lives.  As an athlete herself, Joanna understands the real food needs of other athletes.  Among the other services Joanna provides is Nutrition Response Testing (NRT). NRT provides insight into the absorption of food and supplements to determine their input strength or weakness. For updates on other sports nutrition programs, lectures, and events with Joanna visit regularly.

1 comment:

  1. Getting to know the basics is important. Thanks for posting this