Bodybuilding With Diabetes

Weight training can be therapeutic and is recommended for the prevention and treatment of many diseases and illnesses. For example, it is recommended that people with diabetes exercise regularly. This is true for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

When individuals hear the term "bodybuilding," they automatically think of competitive bodybuilding. In all reality, this is just one very small sector of a large subset of the population who weight trains (e.g., body builds) for general aesthetics and health.

Weight training itself can also be therapeutic and is recommended for the prevention and treatment of many diseases and illnesses. For example, it is recommended that people with diabetes exercise regularly. This is true for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

A Brief Background About Diabetes

The rate of diabetes is soaring at an unthinkable level in North America. This increase is related to the obesity epidemic in this country; diabetes is one of the many diseases associated with obesity.

There Are Two Main Types Of Diabetes:

  • Type I
  • Type II

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas (organ responsible for insulin production) completely stops producing insulin. Insulin is the hormone necessary to use glucose (sugar) found in foods for energy. Therefore, individuals with type 1 diabetes must take insulin shots. This usually develops in children between the ages of 8 to 12, but can develop at any age. I'm aware of one woman who developed type I diabetes in her mid 50's.

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented; it is an autoimmune disease that ultimately results in the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin to stop functioning.

On the contrary, type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to produce and/or unable to properly use insulin. This accounts for about 90% of the total cases of diabetes. This used to be more prevalent in adults, but again, because of the obesity epidemic, it's now seen in adolescents.

There is also a genetic component to type 2 diabetes, but the initial problem is not with the cells of the pancreas as in type 1 diabetes. Instead, it is an issue with the insulin receptors in the body and in particular the receptors on muscle tissue. Because of this dilemma, blood glucose is not readily transferred into cells and insulin continues to be released from the pancreas to clear the glucose that's still circulating.

You can think of insulin as a school bus and glucose as the children; without the bus (insulin), the children (glucose) cannot get to where they need to be (muscles and organs). If, for example, one of the buses (insulin) along the route broke down, the children (glucose) would continue to pile up because no children (insulin) were picked up and shuttled. Therefore, the boss (pancreas) would have to send more buses (insulin) out to pick up the extra children (glucose) resulting in too many buses (insulin) on the route (bloodstream).

Type 2 diabetes is also a secondary disease, known as a co-morbidity, to overweight and obesity. It is often referred to as "diabesity." This is because oversized fat cells actually increases the risk for insulin resistance. Remember, this is the problem with type 2 diabetes, not type 1 diabetes. Lean individuals can get type 2 diabetes too, however. When it is linked to overweight and obesity, though, it often disappears after weight loss and increases in physical activity, which brings me to my next point.

Physical Activity and Diabetes

Remembering what was discussed above, the insulin receptors on muscle cells become rather inefficient at transferring glucose in those with diabetes. Therefore, one can see why regular exercise is recommended.

Going back to the school bus example, exercise would be like a mechanic in the above example where the bus broke down; the mechanic would fix the bus (insulin receptors in this case) and get it back into working order.

All forms of exercise have been shown to be effective at reducing the risks and complications associated with diabetes. Resistance training in particular is crucial because exercising muscles increase the need to use glucose for energy.

Therefore, natural, anabolic free bodybuilding in the general sense or for competition is great for those with diabetes. It is forcing your body to utilize the additional circulating blood glucose. Aerobic exercise is also beneficial to increase the uptake of glucose and efficiency of insulin usage.

General Diet Recommendations

Diet is also a crucial component to controlling diabetes. Individuals are unique, but health professionals generally recommend reducing any type of refined carbohydrates (white flours, white pastas, high sugar cereals, white breads) and replace them with their whole grain alternatives (whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, oat bran, whole grain bread, etc).

Similarly, protein intake should be more closely monitored. Protein is the mainstay of many otherwise health individuals trying to build muscle and/or get lean, which is fine; however, with diabetes, there is the concern of additional stress on the kidneys because of what's already added from potential diabetic complications. Therefore, do eat high quality proteins, but do not overdo it.

Lastly, healthy fats are also a crucial component to all diets and that's no different in folks with diabetes.

Monitoring Blood Sugars

It is of course important to note that it is crucial for folks to monitor their blood sugars regularly and specifically before, (during if you feel 'low'), and after exercise. Keep in mind how exercise effects blood glucose - exercise will cause glucose to be utilized by the muscles; therefore, what was once circulating in the blood stream, is now being taken up by muscles.

This leaves little circulating and if it dips too low, you could get disoriented, dizzy, weak and actually pass out (reminds me of one time after a set of heavy squats). Therefore, always keep some form of quick sugar with you or near you at all times; lifesavers, jolly ranchers, juice or anything of similar ilk all work well.


The moral of the story is that all exercise is beneficial and crucial for health for those with diabetes. Whether you're a competitive bodybuilder or a weekend warrior, if you have diabetes or are even at risk for diabetes, you better get or keep moving!