How to Exercise With Hypoglycemia

Very tired but still full of will
If you have hypoglycemia, safe exercise requires having a blood glucose meter handy. (Image: gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images)

Serum glucose, or sugar in your blood, is the mainstay of energy for your brain and body. Your body relies on the sugar your blood provides to function properly. If your blood glucose levels fall below a level that prevents your body from operating efficiently, it's called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Exercise can trigger hypoglycemia, which results in many symptoms, some potentially life-threatening. Working out with the condition requires preparation and knowledge of potential interventions.

Step 1

Measure your serum glucose level before you begin exercising. For an individual with hypoglycemia, working out responsibly 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 peanut butter, 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 peanut butter will help you maintain a healthy glucose level throughout your workout.

Step 3

Avoid hypoglycemia triggers, particularly before exercise, such as fasting, eating large meals and drinking alcohol. Although healthy individuals can fast for even long periods of time without experiencing hypoglycemia, those with a history of the condition cannot. 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. And 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. You or somebody else may also notice paleness and unequal pupil size. Upon onset of symptoms is the best time to intervene. If ignored, hypoglycemia can progress to seizures, fainting and even coma, constituting a medical emergency.

Step 6

Carry hypoglycemia interventions with you, or at least keep them close by, and consider working out with a partner in case you become unable to notice significant decline. 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.

Things You'll Need

  • Blood glucose meter

  • Glucose meter strips

  • Quick-absorbing sources of carbohydrate, such as fruit juice, sugar water, glucose tablets or candy

  • Exercise partner, if necessary

Warning

There are many factors that can affect blood-sugar regulation. It is not safe to assume that because you have an uncomplicated workout one day, that you will not experience hypoglycemia another day.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
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