Diabetes and Bodybuilding. . . An Unusual Partnership!

Sometimes life presents us with very interesting challenges that may, when first introduced seem disastrous, but over the long term can actually be life transforming. Being diagnosed with diabetes is one of those double-edged swords that cut through the fabric of our life and leave it changed forever. However, as athletes we have learned to use our minds as well as our bodies in order to produce the best results. Now I am by no means saying that having diabetes is a great asset to your sporting career. However, with the right mental attitude you can make it work with you instead of against you and welcome the challenge it presents rather than digging yourself into a hole of hopelessness. So if you have diabetes, or know someone who has, read on and learn a little more of how it can be successfully integrated into your lifestyle as a bodybuilder...




Type 1 diabetes affects about 1 million people in the United States. It used to be called ‘juvenile diabetes' since diagnosis was once confined to those under 18 years of age. Nowadays it is recognized as a condition that can occur at any age as a result of a malfunction in the immune system. Most people who develop type 1 diabetes have immune markers in their blood, such as antibodies against insulin, islets or the enzymes Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase (GAD) and IA2 (also known as ICA 512). In the presence of these markers something as simple as a virus can trigger a set of reactions within the immune system that can result in the development of type 1 diabetes. In type 1 the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells resulting in the pancreas being unable to manufacture insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes caused by a condition known as insulin resistance or by the body not making enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance. In the case of insulin resistance, your body has difficulty using insulin. Glucose cannot get into your cells. Your blood glucose becomes high and your pancreas tries to keep blood glucose normal by making more insulin. This helps initially but eventually your cells make less and less insulin and medication is required.



According to the American Diabetes Association, the following nutritional plan should be implemented in those suffering from diabetes:


  • Dairy products should be of the low fat or fat free variety.
  • Lean meats and chicken without the skin should be favored over fattier meats.
  • Fish should be consumed 2 - 3 times a week.
  • Vegetables and fruit should be eaten every day.
  • Whole grain breads, cereals and pasta should be consumed instead of refined products.
  • The diet should be low in sodium.

In addition to this regular physical activity should be included since this helps lower blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

So you see if you have diabetes (be it type 1 or type 2) you can successfully integrate it into your bodybuilding lifestyle rather than letting it stand in the way of you achieving your goals.



When it comes to working out, the diabetic bodybuilder should test their blood sugar before they begin training, after training and sometimes even during training. The reason for this is simple; if you begin a workout when your blood sugar is too low you are going to have a less than spectacular session. On the other hand, if you begin a workout with blood sugar that is too high, you are going to end up burning muscle tissue for fuel. This is because when your blood sugar is too high your body thinks it is starving (even though there is glucose everywhere) and it will grab onto anything it can get a hold of to satiate that hunger. This means that - although fat is a preferred source - amino acids are also fair game. So it is very important to be aware of your blood sugar levels before you enter the gym and monitor yourself throughout the workout. This is especially important when it comes to training whilst on a pre-contest diet since the body is in a very depleted state with both fat and glucose reserves running low. At this time it is not unusual to experience a situation where you have to put a workout on pause until you have ingested just enough food to stabilize your blood sugar. It is also worth noting that as you lose weight your insulin requirements will change so it may be advisable to seek the guidance of a medical professional at this point.




In the case of diabetes it is important to increase insulin sensitivity in order to bring down blood glucose levels. The best diet for this would be a low carb, anti-inflammatory diet.  This means restricting all breads, rice, pasta, potatoes, muffins, crackers and fruit. The goal is to avoid foods that readily convert to sugar. The elimination of all trans and saturated fats, fatty red meat, deli meats and fried foods will reduce inflammation.

On paper this would look something like this for a bodybuilder who consumes six meals a day:


Meal 1) 2 whole omega-3 eggs, 4 egg whites, 1oz fat free cheese, veg (e.g. green pepper, mushroom)


Meal 2) 2 scoops whey protein with water


Meal 3) 8oz chicken breast, broccoli


Meal 4) 1 cup fat free yogurt or 1 cup 1% cottage cheese


Meal 5) 8 oz Salmon, tuna (in water), flounder etc (fish is a major insulin sensitizer), veg or salad


Meal 6) Protein shake (with water) or 1 cup yogurt or 1 cup cottage cheese


Following this type of diet should increase insulin sensitivity and bring down fasting blood glucose levels.




  • Diabetics (be they type 1 or type 2) greatly benefit from the use of Essential Fatty Acid supplements due to the effect they have on blood sugar levels (i.e. assisting in keeping them stable).
  • The use of certain non-stimulant based supplements can also be of assistance when it comes to increasing insulin sensitivity. The combination of ingredients in LIPOLYZE from Species Nutrition has shown great promise in this regard.
  • The amino acid Taurine, acting as a potent anti-oxidant, combats the destructive effect free radicals have on the pancreas. Taurine also improves insulin resistance through an increase in the excretion of cholesterol via conversion to bile acid.
  • Pyridoxamine (a specialized form of vitamin B6) may help prevent diabetic complications by blocking formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and advanced lipoxidation end products (ALEs). AGEs are implicated in diabetes-related conditions including kidney disease, visual loss and neuropathy.





Scientists now understand that people with diabetes not only make too little insulin, they also make too little amylin. When there is too little amylin your brain's hunger control mechanism is impaired. This means that, even though you may have eaten, your brain thinks it is still hungry, causing you to eat more than your body needs. This leads to weight gain and, of course, more food leads to more sugar in your blood.  In addition to this amylin also controls the rate at which food moves through your stomach. Too little amylin means that food moves through your stomach faster, send sugar into your blood faster and raises blood sugar levels.

Symlin is a medicine used to replace amylin in your body. Taken right before a meal Symlin:


  • Makes food move more slowly through your stomach, leading to a more controlled release of sugar into your bloodstream.
  • Increases satiety therefore reducing the impulse to overeat.
  • Signals your liver to send out less sugar.


For more information on Symlin consult your healthcare provider.



So there we have it a look at the curious partnership that may be formed between bodybuilding and diabetes. The main message here is that whether you are a lifelong diabetic or have just been diagnosed you need not let this stand in the way of your achieving your fitness goals. In fact you can successfully integrate it into your bodybuilding lifestyle and work with it rather than trying to fight against it. The diet and workout habits you already implement as a bodybuilder may also be of great assistance when it comes to avoiding diabetes related health conditions in later life.


N.B. Special thanks to Certified Diabetes Educator and professional bodybuilder RX Muscle's very own Colette Nelson for her valuable input in the creation of this article.

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Olympia Tix IG 03Mar 01


Olympia Tix IG 03Mar 01