When I tell people I'm diabetic, they look at me like I'm joking.
They find it hard to believe that here is this muscled up guy, with relatively low body fat, who is a diabetic.
Often times when we think of a diabetic we think of someone who has made poor food choices their whole life, is overweight, and often lazy. Well things aren't always as they appear.
I was diagnosed with diabetes over a year ago, and was borderline diabetic the year prior.
I have asked myself over and over again what could have caused this. Was it steroid use over the years? Was it massive food consumption and carbs? Was it just in my cards since I have a family history of auto immune disorders (my mother has chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia)?
The thing is I'll never know. My best guess is a perfect storm of limited sleep, excessive dieting which caused my liver to dump glucose into my body instead of food, and elevated cortisol levels for far too long.
You see, I never really stopped dieting after this show I competed in back in 2009. I stayed very lean year round, and ate like I was contest prepping all the time. But that's neither here nor there, it is what it is now.
Just before I was diagnosed with diabetes I noticed how thirsty I was all the time. It was worse at night, I just could not drink enough water to satisfy myself. I could literally drink 5-6 20 ounce bottles of water within an hour, and still felt thirsty.
I also noticed how tired I was. I would wake up, go to the gym, and an hour later I felt like going back to sleep again. Then when it really was time to go to sleep at night, I could not fall asleep for shit! I tossed and turned, woke up every couple hours, and day in and day out this was how it was for a couple months.
I also noticed how irritable I was after eating a cheat meal. It seemed like every time I had a high calorie cheat meal it was like a light switch had been flipped and I turned into an instant asshole. It was so bad that my wife would say, “I'll make sure I go someplace after you eat this, because you're going to be nasty acting.”
I went to my doctor and had some blood drawn. When I went back for my follow-up I told him right up front, “I'm probably diabetic” and when he looked at my labs the first words out of his mouth were, “Holy shit!” That is not something you want to hear the doctor tell you, trust me.
I went back for a glucose tolerance test a few days later. I thought that if I fasted for 12 hours, no big deal, levels would come down and everything was going to be fine. Not so much. I had my blood drawn that morning, and drank this sugary dextrose drink that is 100 grams of sugar. About 45 minutes later they come into the room and test my sugar, and I'm over 500. The normal range is 70-110 ng/dl. The nurse told me that just my fasted glucose was 350!
I couldn't even finish the test, they had to give me 10 units of insulin to bring my glucose down. Then after an additional 45 minutes they gave me 5 more units because the initial dose wasn't bringing me down enough. I'll never forget what the nurse had said. She said “Your body just isn't using sugar”.
I sat there in that exam room alone, with my head in my hands. This was pretty much the worst day of my life. I was thinking that this was a death sentence and that my life would never be the same again.
I worried about bodybuilding, I worried about my life being shortchanged, I worried about not being here for my family and especially my son. My world fell apart that morning.
Then I was angry. I was angry at everything I ever took. I was angry at myself for worrying so much about food and growing. I actually resented bodybuilding, steroids, and everything about building muscle.
I was fucking pissed off at the world. Then came the drive home. I drove myself home, and started to crash from the insulin. I got home and took my blood sugar and I was in the mid 40's. Shaky, irritable, and panicked, I raided my kitchen cabinets for anything I could get my hands on to eat.
I ate a bunch of food, and then an hour later my blood sugar was back up over 400 again. I drove to the emergency room, and waited for about 3 hours. The problem was I was fucking starving! I felt as if there was a hole in my stomach and all I wanted to do was eat something, but I felt like I couldn't due to this “medical problem” I now had. Finally I said fuck it, left the ER waiting room, and went home and doubled on my dose of metformin.
I could go on and on about when I was first diagnosed. I could talk about the shitty endocrinologist who basically wanted to nickle and dime the shit out of me every week, or the diabetes “education class” that was the biggest waste of fucking time I've ever experienced. It's pretty bad when you hand the nutritionist your current diet, and what she hands back to you is basically the same fucking thing, since you know more than she does to begin with.
Anyways, I was a diabetic and I had to accept it. I was down and out for about 2 or 3 days after I was diagnosed. But truth be told, it wasn't going to stop me, no fucking way! If I was diabetic then God damnit, I was going to make it my goal to be one big and shredded insulin using bastard, period!
Nothing has stood in my way before, and I wasn't going to let this stand in my way either. When that bitch endocrinologist looked at me and asked me “Do you regret the lifestyle you've lived and some of the things you have done over the years?” I responded with a great big “FUCK NO.” That was my last trip to the endo Doc, I stick with my primary Doc for everything now.
Bodybuilding as a diabetic
So onto bodybuilding as a diabetic. OK, here is the deal with bodybuilding with diabetes. You are not going to be able to eat QUITE AS MUCH as you did before. You can still eat above maintenance level calories from time to time, but the days of “bulking” are pretty much over UNLESS you take more medication.
You can still build plenty of muscle and eat 5,000 calories a day, but you're going to need more insulin. I didn't want to go this route, because once you elevate your insulin intake, it's almost like it's hard to go back to not using as much. In most cases insulin use gets higher and higher the longer you go on with diabetes. The problem with this, is the hypoglycemic crashes can get worse.
Also, in the beginning when your blood sugar drops you know it. You feel shaky, irritable, sweaty, and tired. The more often this happens the less prevalent those signs are. You may check your blood sugar one day and you're down at 50 ng/dl and you had no idea you would be that low! It gets dangerous, trust me.
I'd rather walk around 20 points higher 24/7 and take less insulin, than fuck with death while trying to make sure I was at 80 24/7. But rest assured, you can still be one bad ass motherfucker as a diabetic bodybuilder.
I searched all over the internet for diabetic bodybuilders, but there was actually very limited information on it. Of course I came across Tim Belknap, who was a diabetic bodybuilder back in the 1980's. I read somewhere that he had a heart transplant or something, which made me nervous. I found a couple other guys who were amateurs, but in the whole scheme of things, there was limited information on bodybuilding as a diabetic.
The issue is, the diets advocated for diabetics are nothing! God damn, the calories are so low you'd waste away! So how was I going to go about tweaking things for myself, now that I was bodybuilding with diabetes?
For starters, I found a few tricks to use to my advantage. The biggest blood sugar drop for most people is at 10 am. For some reason or another, around 10 am everyday my glucose drops lower. Therefore, let's say I woke up at 6:30 am, checked my sugar and I was around 120, and my breakfast consisted of some eggs and a carb source such as a bowl of oatmeal.
Where normally my sugar would spike from the oats, and I'd have to take 4-5 units of insulin, it may actually make me go hypoglycemic since my blood sugar naturally drop lower late morning. Therefore, I may not use any insulin or only 2 iu's. EVEN IF YOU DOSE IT CORRECTLY, 1 iu PER 10 GRAMS OF CARBS, CAN THROW YOU INTO HYPOGLYCEMIA!
The body is strange sometimes, it reacts differently. One day you could do everything right, the next day you could duplicate it and boom, your sugar is dropping like a rock. Anyways, the point to all of this is I know that at breakfast time I can go a tad higher on my carb intake and not be through the roof on my blood sugar.
Another trick I found was the idea of “Inner workout carbs”. I will often drink a shake made of about 40 grams of protein powder, and 50-80 grams of some sort of carb powder such as Karbolyn.
I can get done training and check my sugar, and I'm perfectly normal, despite about 40 grams carbs pre-workout (roughly an hour before I train), and an additional 50-80 grams of carbs during the workout. Then post workout I can usually eat about 30-40 more grams of carbs and be normal or SLIGHTLY HIGH, but nothing bad.
Foods that I do the best with are yams and moderate portions of brown rice. I also eat half an apple here and there. Oats usually throw me through the roof on blood sugar, but if I limit the portion to 1/2 cup dry measure, more in first half of the day, I do pretty good.
White rice and potatoes throw me pretty high, I now avoid those. Cereal throws me really high, and as for fruits to avoid, definitely stay away from bananas and watermelon. Watermelon is the worst one! Strawberries aren't too good either, blueberries are a much better choice.
Sample diet for diabetic bodybuilders
I could write a book on this shit over what I've learned since I was diagnosed with diabetes, but I'm going to give you a sample diet of how I eat as a diabetic to gain muscle.
Feel free to use this as a template to help you. And if you're not a diabetic, you can use this anyways to your benefit.
Meal 1 – 4 scrambled eggs, 2 slices turkey bacon, 1/2 cup oats
Meal 2 – 8 oz tilapia, 1/2 cup brown rice, 1 cup mixed veggies
Meal 3 – 1/2 cup brown rice, 8 oz lean beef or steak
Meal 4 – 1/2 cup brown rice, 1 cup veggies, handful of mixed nuts, can of albacore tuna fish
Meal 5 – TRAIN/inner workout (workout meal consisting of 40 grams protein powder in water, 50-80 grams of Karbolyn, sipping throughout training)
Meal 6 – 6 oz sweet potato, 8 oz Tilapia
Meal 7 – 2 spoons natural peanut butter, 9 egg whites/1 whole scrambled
That is something that I would eat right there on any given day. That is pretty much a spitting image of what John Doe is doing right now.
If you have any questions on bodybuilding as a diabetic, feel free to contact me and I will do my best to answer your questions. And if you're wondering if anyone else out there is bodybuilding as a diabetic, you have found one right here. If I can do it, you can do it. What one man can do, another man can do! What one man can do, another man can do!
This doesn't have to be a death sentence. Use this to your advantage to pay even closer attention to your diet and your health. I'm willing to bet if you try hard enough, you may just be better than you were before!