Diabetic Bodybuilding 101: My Personal Tips and Experience

I am a type 1 diabetic and I was diagnosed with late onset diabetes about 5 years ago. I started getting extremely tired all of the time and as the days went on my thirst became ridiculous. It was like I could not get enough water to drink and it wasn't uncommon for me to slam 4 or 5 bottles of water back to back within an hour!!

I was also losing weight pretty quickly. I dropped from 230 lbs down to 207 lbs within a 6-8 week time period, but it wasn't like I was losing weight because of any strict dieting. I could eat a pizza one night and then the next day I was down 2 more lbs! I new something wasn't right so I went to the Dr. for a blood draw.

My fasting glucose came back at 385!! That is almost 4x higher than normal. When the doctor walked in upon my return visit and looked at my chart, the first words out of his mouth were, “Holy shit!!” I knew it wasn't good, and before he even looked at the chart I said to him, “I'm probably diabetic.”

The following week I went back in for as glucose tolerance test. This is where you drink 100 grams of sugar and then every hour they retest your glucose to see if you're processing it. I didn't even make it to the second draw, I came in over 500 after the glucose drink!! They shot me with 10 units of insulin and I waited in the doctors office by myself.

I remember the nurse saying to me, “Your body just isn't processing sugar.” I've had a lot of lost and lonely times in my life, but sitting in that office by myself just thinking about everything was one of the most lost and lonely times I've ever had. I asked myself, “Why me? Why in the hell is this happening to me? I've always eaten healthy and exercised. This isn't fair!”

The nurse came back in and retested my glucose, and then she gave me another 5 units of insulin. Then I was sent home. On the way home my glucose started dropping insanely low from the insulin. I ate a bunch of food in order to get it back up and feel right again. Then I retested my blood sugar and it was back to over 400. From that point I drove myself to the emergency room.

I waited for hours in the waiting area at the hospital. I finally became fed up with the long wait and called my doctor. He said to go home and take some metformin (an oral medication used to lower glucose, however it's minimally effective for someone with type 1 diabetes). The doctor was under the impression that my issue was type 2 diabetes.

Over time I realized that my problem wasn't insulin resistance, it was insulin production. I was down and out for about 2 or 3 days. I started questioning my lifespan, my family, how it would affect me the rest of my life, and what other issues could result from living with diabetes.

Then I pretty much said to myself, “Fuck this, I'm going to deal with this and continue to do what I love doing, and if I have to be diabetic then I'm going to be “THE MOST JACKED DIABETIC I CAN BE!”

After I began taking the long acting insulin I was prescribed my body weight quickly shot back up and I started feeling a lot better. I ate clean and began taking in minimal carbs. It was extremely difficult because even when my blood sugar was higher than normal I felt like it was low.

This was probably from walking around with a higher glucose level and my body getting used to it. So it definitely took some time to adjust to things. The one thing I had going for me was that I was already used to eating in a regimented manner, So it wasn't as difficult as someone who didn't know how to eat.

I went to this nutritionist and diabetes education class which was a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY! I could have taught the nutritionist how do design diets and the diabetes education class could have been cut down from all day to 5 minutes. “Don't eat carbs, carbs are the enemy” was pretty much what the entire class was about!! It was a total waste of time for me.

When the nutritionist handed me the diet she had told me that she spent more time on my diet than anyone else in the class. Of course she did, I was a bodybuilder who already ate in a regimented manner and I had already adjusted my daily foods around to work with my condition!! What she handed me was absolute garbage.

It was a diet that was only around 1,500 calories a day at best and had no purpose in a bodybuilder's daily diet. There was no way it was sustainable nor realistic for someone in the gym!! I tossed the thing in the trash as soon as I got home and decided to figure things out for myself.

I'm done asking myself “how and why” and all I can do is deal with it moving forward. It could have been much worse. Some people get diagnosed with things a lot more life threatening than the hand that I was dealt.

I get a lot of questions about using insulin for growing and how can people take advantage of insulin to grow? My answer to that is simple; you don't!! You simply take insulin to utilize the foods you consume so you can grow without serious health consequences. There is no special way to use insulin in order to grow while consuming more foods to grow.

When someone without diabetes eats more their body releases more insulin to shuttle nutrients. A diabetic is no different, other than they need to administer insulin in order to process foods their bodies cannot process on their own. So my answer for diabetics who are trying to build muscle is to adjust medication to accommodate the higher caloric/nutrient intake. It's that simple!! There is simply no other way to do it!!

Now, if there is anything positive about having to use insulin it's that you become very experienced with it. You can use it pre-workout to increase gym pumps when you know exactly how much to take and what to eat. As far as that goes, then yes insulin works for me and I probably get much greater pumps because of it. I'd rather have a functioning pancreas though, but I cannot change that.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE/TIPS FOR DIABETES AND BODYBUILDING

#1- Don't inject your insulin into your stomach fat, it will create fat pockets that become visible when you get leaner.

I noticed this the summer after I was diagnosed and when I started getting leaner I had a tiny pocket in my stomach that was noticeable.

I began shooting intramuscular always and never had that issue again. The tiny pocket in my lower abdomen went away in due time. I now shoot it in my delts, quads, hamstrings, and triceps only now. I rotate regularly throughout the days

#2- I do NOT use designer drugs that control glucose.

All of these newer drugs that are supposed to help your pancreas and/or insulin sensitivity that are inject-able I stay the hell away from. It's too early to know long term effects from them and some of them will make you feel like total shit or leave knots on your body.

I tried Victoza and after a week I threw it in the trash because I felt terrible on it. I tried Bidureon and after dealing with knots at the injection sites that took months to dissipate I swore that one off too. (Bidureon is a drug that is supposed to help your pancreas produce more of its own insulin). Victoza is used for type 2 diabetics anyways, which I am not.

It's going to be straight insulin or bust for me!! I have no desire to be a medical practice guinea pig who develops cancer later in life because of some stupid drug that was thought to be helpful at the time it was released!!

#3- Don't fall victim to “plant based diets” or other fad diets that claim to reverse diabetes.

I've been there and done it and do you know what happened? My sugar shot up even higher because my liver began dumping excessive glucose into my bloodstream from not having glycogen available to use!! I do not believe this to be a reversible condition, only one that you can control.

If you're overweight then losing weight will help your glucose control. But go back to eating bad and gaining weight and guess what? Your high glucose levels will come right back!!

You may find that SOME CARBS actually keep your blood sugar more stable. This is a tricky one, because too many will raise it but too few can also raise it. I have found that a small and steady intake of carbs make it easier to manage my blood sugar. I do not like to normally take in a ton of carbs because the insulin use that accommodates that becomes more of a guessing game for me.

It's been my experience that more insulin used creates more likelihood for extreme drops in blood sugar. Every little factor comes into play surrounding insulin use. When it's hot outside your glucose will drop much faster, when you're stressed it may stay higher, when you're exercising it may drop quicker, or there may be a certain time of the day it naturally rises or falls.

More insulin used becomes more of a risk for me. So the goal is to use just enough to get the job done. This is done with clean eating habits and paying very close attention to diet and timing of insulin and meals!!

#4- I was fortunate enough to already build the bulk of my size before being diagnosed as a diabetic.

What I mean by this is that I wasn't getting much bigger anyways. At a height of 5'9″ and carrying a lean 230 lbs around, my growing days were pretty much closing in on an end. The extreme measures of going beyond this aren't realistic nor healthy for me.

You may be in a totally different category. You may have plenty of room to still grow, and if this is the case then you're going to need to adjust insulin intake upwards to be able to use the foods you consume.

You're not going to magically grow muscles by starving yourself and taking in hardly any carbs. If you aren't growing on 2,000 calories a day then you're not going to grow on 2,000 calories a day PLUS insulin.

You may need to bump it up to 3-4,000 calories a day or more. The same way someone without diabetes would have to eat in order to grow!!

#5- Cardio is critical to help control blood sugar!!

Daily cardio for me does wonders at helping me control my blood sugar without needing to take more insulin. Again, building size isn't a concern of mine anymore since I'm already happy with my size. I can do cardio on a regular basis and still maintain my muscle. It's damn near impossible for me to drop under 220 lbs even when I'm dieting extremely strict for months on end.

I've just carried a certain size around for so long that my body is used to it and to lose anymore size would warrant losing muscle mass. I'd pretty much have to stop weight training in order to lose weight, and I'm not ready to do that nor dial it down any. I love the gym too much and maybe one day my training and priorities will change, but for now I'm still going to hit hardcore workouts and kill the gym!!

#6- High blood sugar = terrible sleep!!

I'm going to be completely honest here on this one because like most other people I too will have a high calorie cheat meal sometimes. I try to take what I think is adequate insulin in order to use the foods I'm eating, but when these foods are hard to calculate it becomes much more difficult to dial in the insulin. I could tell you how many units I'd need for a cup of rice, but I'd have a harder time telling you how many units I'd need to take for a pizza.

So often times if I fall short and my sugar spikes at night I'll sleep like total garbage, or I'll wake up in the middle of the night, take a shot of insulin and go back to bed. Hopefully by morning time my sugar comes around to normal.

For someone who eats garbage all of the time I could see sleep being absolutely terrible. I know a guy who is diabetic and he eats like shit, and he has giant black circles under his eyes all the time!! I know this is probably because his sleep is shot to hell from his eating habits.

For myself, this is only once in awhile.

#7- The more often you go hypoglycemic, the less warning signs there are.

This is when things get a little scary, because normal people have warning signs when their blood sugar gets low. They get sweaty, irritable, light headed, or confused acting. When you experience drops in glucose enough a lot of these tell-tale signs of going hypo don't present themselves since the body is used to it!! You could be walking around with a blood sugar level of 40 (half of normal) and you will have no idea you're that low!!

This is when things become very dangerous, because what can happen is that one minute you're functioning fine and the next minute you've wrecked your car or gone unconscious!! This is why it's extremely important to check your glucose often, ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE A BODYBUILDER!!

#8- Certain supplements, drugs, and prescription medications will raise your blood sugar!!

You may find that something you used in the past to build muscle or lose fat just doesn't work anymore without the side effect of raising your glucose. A lot of oral drugs will do this and using them simply creates more harm than benefit.

If you cannot control your glucose then that means your muscles are not up-taking nutrients in the manner they should. So you could be using something to try to build more muscle and in return it's doing exactly the opposite of what your intentions are. You'd be better off using nothing!!

It will take time to learn what you can get away with and what you cannot. But I promise you that using something to try to build muscle isn't worth it when it jacks up your glucose levels.

#9- Take every measure necessary to monitor and control your blood sugar.

Many drugstores and retail stores now sell glucose monitors and diabetic test strips. Walmart sells glucose monitors for around $20 and they also carry test strips. Some of the test strips they sell are actually cheaper than what many insurance plans will pay out. I go there for test strips now because they're actually cheaper than my out-of-pocket expense for the strips from my prescription that I get at the local pharmacy.

Do not neglect monitoring your sugar levels or being hit or miss with it!! Excessively high glucose can lead to other problems down the road. You can create heart damage and organ problems from walking around with high blood sugar too much. One thing to specifically watch out for are your kidney values.

I take cranberry extract every single day as a precautionary measure for this, along with 5mg of lisinopril each day since it doubles as kidney protection. (It's normally used for blood pressure control, however it helps kidneys as well. I have no issues with my blood pressure and never have).

#10- Don't be ashamed of having this condition.

When I was first diagnosed with this I didn't want people to know. I would hide my insulin use and go about my day like it was some big secret. I was afraid of people viewing me as someone with an illness or someone who was less than adequate because I was a diabetic.

Listen, it is what it is here. People have several issues they deal with. Some have mental disorders, blood pressure issues, cancer, and a possibly a host of other medical issues. There is no reason to be ashamed of having this and it's better to have people aware of your condition in case you need help one day!!

It's far better to have people know the problem if you need medical attention than to have a paramedic or doctor take a shot in the dark on what the issue could be. It may save your life someday if you have an issue!!

DON'T LET BEING DIABETIC STOP YOU

I was in the grocery store last night and I walked past a mother and her 2 children. She had a young boy with her who was probably about 4 years old, and a daughter who looked to be around 2 years old.

As I walked past them the young boy stopped and stared at me. I always laugh when kids do this. This kid looked straight at me like some celebrity just walked by him. I said to him “Hey there, what are you doing in here? Are you getting some food for the week?”

He started telling me his life story like some timer was turned on and he had to get it all out within a minute. You know how kids just ramble on like they've known you their entire life? I love that, I like to listen to them and hear what they have to say!!

He told me that he loved to watch wrestling and the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” His mom said to me, “I'm sorry, he just loves wrestling and guys like the Rock and John Cena.”

He asked me if he could see my arm, so I pulled up the sleeve and flexed up one of the guns for him!!

The boy had something in his hands and his mother quickly grabbed it and said, “No, you're not supposed to have that.”

She then said to me, “He isn't supposed to be eating that stuff because he has diabetes.”

I bent down on my knee and looked him right in his eyes and said to him, “It's ok buddy, I have diabetes too. I want you to remember something very important here…… NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT YOU CANNOT DO SOMETHING BECAUSE YOU HAVE DIABETES!! If you want to be on American Ninja Warrior or be a wrestler one day then you go right ahead and do it!!”

After I told him that, I had a complete 4 year old stranger hugging me. I did what most guys do, I held it all in until I got out to my car.

Best of luck little dude, keep those dreams alive and don't stop for anything. And that goes out to anybody reading this article who may be dealing with this.

Train hard…no matter what the odds are!! -JD

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18 thoughts on “Diabetic Bodybuilding 101: My Personal Tips and Experience”

  1. Great story! I have t1d and it was a lot of trial and error body building with this disease. Just not a lot of information out there on it. Glad you post these things for people who need it.

    Reply
  2. Howdy
    Jeff Teaford here.
    I am a type 1 diabetic, age 55, diagnosed at 45.
    I see you have not mentioned those of us using a pump. Man what a life-changer! It’s all about information.
    The sooner you know what is going on, the more bullets you have in your gun.

    I started working out again about 6 months ago. As a kid I worked out quite a bit, then I became a dad and things just… went away.

    Now I’m back. I also have scoliosis which consists of a very (you gotta see it to believe it) spine.
    My spine has been fused since I was 8 years old. I have always been a little different than the other kids, but all that did was make me work harder.

    You are so right about the lows becoming less detectable until it’s too late. The pump has all but eliminated lows now. I had one last month. That’s about 3 or 4 less per month than last year, before the pump.
    I have started a Facebook page called Bodybuilding For A Lifetime.
    Am I impressive to look at? No- Not yet.

    Most limitations in life are pretty much self imposed. They can be beat back with enough work. Diabetes is no different to me.
    I am a pilot. I taught skiing in Aspen Colorado for years and SCUBA dove for quite awhile. So attaining things important to me has always been a part of my life. I’m not about to stop now.
    Great site!

    Reply
    • Thank you very much!!!! The pump was always suggested to me but I can’t get my head around having something attached to me, it’s a huge mental thing I have

      Reply
  3. I’m sure you know – but I did not – how hard it is to find credible, useful information for diabetic weight training (I hesitate to say bobybuilder because at 5’9″, 155 lbs & age 57 I definitely don’t qualify). Your posts provide great motivation and insight. Thank you! The more suggestions the better!!

    Reply
  4. Great post. I was diagnosed with type 1 at 25, Currently 43. Your experiences are very similar to mine. Except I’m still trying to get jacked!!!! :)

    Thanks for a great post.

    Reply
  5. John, you could be simply lacking these minerals : Chromium, Vanadium, Potassium and Magnesium. Do some research on these. Doctors just want to take your money, I don’t put much trust in them these days.

    Reply
  6. I have a student in one of my HIIT classes who has Type 1; since turning 60, she experiences frequent DOMS and much longer recovery periods post workout. Type 1 adult onset occurred 20 years ago, she appears fit, is regularly active. Only variable that changed was age. All of my usual post-workout snack tips to prevent/alleviate muscle soreness are inappropriate. Aside from epsom salt bath soaks, I have nothing. Do you have suggestions, or can you direct me to reputable sources of info?

    Reply
    • Carb up more before going to the gym, possibly carbs are too low all around? This is common with a lot of people, get that preworkout meal squared away and balanced and it will help

      Reply
  7. Omg!!!!!! I swear John you just took the words out of my mouth. I’m 48 been type one since age 11. Been lifting since 14 when my father told me I was week as he ate a chocolate donut in front of me.
    I taught everything I know by reading and studying. I’ve competed in physique competitions and not trying Classic Physique as I put on more size.
    I’m a fireman so I work every 3rd day. On my days off when I weight train I take in mist of my daily carbs pre and post. Works beautifully for me. On my work days I go lower carb for one day. This routine keeps my BS under control and any bloating to a minimum from carb over loading.
    Diabetics can easily have to many as you know.
    This plan for me works wonders.
    I’m 215 now and around 8% BF. Contest coming up in May. On a bulking cycle now without getting fat.
    Doing it slowly and watching what goes in my mouth.
    Thank you for your story. U inspired me and I LOVE THIS SPORT. It’s leg day I need all the help I can get lol.
    To all other diabetics
    The gym is are happy drug. Get your asses inside and get pumped. Diabetes hates the IRON. It’s why I love it Live it!!!!!!!
    It picked the wrong guy to mess with when it picked me 🏋️‍♀️👍🏻 Take care train hard eat smart! And yes I have cheat days to we’re all human!

    Reply
  8. Hi John, what are your recommendations diet and training wise for people who are prediabetic or insulin resistant? To prevent getting diabetes.

    Reply
    • Utilize carb timing more, put carbs more around workout time (before and after) use cinnamon extract and chromium picolinate to naturally lower glucose, or get in the habit of using metformin now at 500-1,000mg per day if pre-diabetic.

      Hate to say this, but usually the insulin resistance just gets worse

      Reply
      • Thanks for the advice John, appreciate it. I’ve managed to lose 30 pounds in the last year and a half, still need to be vigilant but hopefully this lowers my chances.

        Reply

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