You’ve probably heard that resistance training is good for you, and you might even know that it can be especially beneficial for people living with diabetes. But most people don’t know why this is, or how to get started. So in this post, I’ll dive into the benefits of resistance training when it comes to diabetes, and give you some tips on how to successfully incorporate it into your life.
What is resistance training and why should you care about it?
Resistance training, in its most basic form, simply means that you improve your muscle strength and endurance using body weight, resistance bands, weights or other forms of resistance. It doesn’t have to be done in the gym, nor is it off limits for beginners or people with injuries or joint issues.
Resistance training is beneficial for everyone, not just people living with diabetes. It can improve bone health, body composition, strength, weight management, and can even increase metabolism. But there’s an extra bonus related to resistance training when it comes to diabetes, since resistance training can improve insulin sensitivity and even reduce the need for medications.
Another benefit of resistance training is that it can be easier to manage than, for example, cardiovascular exercise like running or biking, since most people living with diabetes won’t experience exercise-induced low blood sugar during a strength training session. Some might even see their blood sugars go up a little.
You do have to be careful for up to 72 hours after a resistance training session though, since this type of training can improve your insulin sensitivity significantly after your workout. The way to manage that is to reduce your medication after a resistance training session, and, as you build more muscle, make long-term adjustments to your medications.
If you want to use exercise as a way of reducing blood sugars, resistance training is more of a long-term strategy than an immediate fix. A good solution to that could be to finish off a resistance training session with some light cardio.
How to get started
If you have never done resistance training before, you need to ease into it. Not only will you have to build strength, but your tendons and ligaments also needs to get with the program before you can start throwing around heavy weights.
So, first step is to design (or have a professional trainer like me design) a program for yourself. If you’ll be exercising at home, you’ll have to work with whatever equipment you have on hand. If you’re completely new to exercising altogether, I suggest you start with body weight exercises (squats, push ups, jumps etc.) and then move to resistance bands or dumbbells. You don’t have to own a fully equipped home gym to reap the benefits of resistance training.
If you have access to a gym, then I suggest you start with machines and then move on to more advanced free weight exercises after 2-4 weeks, depending on your starting point. For a more detailed description of how to design a program that’s right for you, check out my post about how to design a resistance training program.
How to fuel for resistance training
While you might see it as counterproductive to eat before a cardio session, eating before a resistance training session is highly recommended. You’ll need a pre-workout snack in order to have enough energy to work hard and balance your blood sugars. If you use insulin to manage your diabetes, you might need to make a small reduction in your bolus so that you don’t go low during the resistance training session, but it’s not usually as large of a reduction as you would do for cardio.
A good pre-workout meal should include a lean protein (yogurt, fish, poultry, protein powder), a low glycemic carb (rice, sweet potato, oats), and some high-quality fat (nuts, oil, avocado, low-fat cheese). This meal combination won’t make your blood sugars spike, but should give you a good prolonged release of energy throughout your workout. Your meal composition will most likely depend on the time of day that you exercise. I love oatmeal with nuts and Greek yogurt when I work out in the morning, and stuffed chicken and sweet potato for workouts later in the day.
Please don’t be afraid of eating when implementing resistance training into your lifestyle. Proper nutrition is the cornerstone to building strength and you will ultimately reap the rewards in the form of strength and improved blood sugar control.