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Diabeat This » Nutrition and Cycling with Diabetes ( Using Calorie Data)

Cycling with Diabetes

It's maths... Not rocket science

Nutrition and Cycling with Diabetes ( Using Calorie Data)

As an avid cyclist myself I guess it makes perfect sense and my first real article will be about cycling with diabetes.

Performing any sport at any level can be a challenge with diabetes, However the key is finding a routine or regime to manage your blood sugar levels whilst still being out to take part in the sport you love. It’s not always easy and often take a lot of time and effort to find the right method for you however I took inspiration from Team Type 1 / Team Novo Nordisk, the professional cycling team of all Type 1 Diabetics supported by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to help me realise there must be a way…

Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team, races in upcoming BC Superweek. (CNW Group/Novo Nordisk Canada Inc.)

Over the years I have spent a lot of time trying different methods and it’s certainly been a lot of trial and error. I have experimented with glucose in both fast and slow release forms such as gels, drinks, sweets, banana, malt loaf you name it. But I have also experimented with insulin adjustments on both a basal and bolus level (slow / background & fast acting insulins). This article is by no means a one stop shop for your answers however I’m hoping that by sharing my experience it will be out to help you out by teaching you about some of the ways I manage my diabetes when out on the bike on a daily basis.

It’s maths, not rocket science…

So one of the first things to get your head around is that the body is like an engine, fuel in and energy out. Now for most people it’s simple, consume enough fuel and your body will do it’s part in making sure that that fuel can be used efficiently by your body to do the exercise… There’s a common maths a physics principle which also applies here – work done = force x distance. The harder and further you ride the more energy your body is going to use (the work done bit).

Now for us insulin dependant diabetics, we have to consider that fact that we need to throw into the mix having to balance the blood sugar levels at the same time – but to me the most important part is first and foremost getting that first bit sorted…

But how do you work out how much energy you’re using?

So this is where my Garmin comes in handy when combined with my cadence sensor on my bike and a hear rate monitor, the Garmin (at least on the Edge cycling computers) can actually work out your approximate calorie expenditure. What’s more it can even include the recovery period and tell you how long that recovery period is! So I have mine set to notify me every 250 calories I burn. This is really handy, is it takes the guess work out of your riding. Before using a garmin, I was always trying to work out exactly how hard I thought a workout had been… was I riding hard today? did I have a tail wind? and balancing all that with how long had I been riding for and how far did I go… By using my garmin I don’t have to worry about that now as it works it all out for me… So in simple terms all I have to focus on here is consuming 250 calories for every 250 calories I burn – but I tend to split this about 50% on the ride and 50% pre and post ride meals/snacks

Now how about the blood sugar part then?

So this is where it starts to get a bit more trial and error based… Everybody body will react differently to these methods, but I’ll start by explaining some of the things you can do and then explain how I put these into practise myself. Now some of these will only be appropriate for those on insulin pumps, but most in some way can be adopted by all insulin dependant type one diabetics.

Pre-Ride Meals with Reduced Insulin Intake

One of the things you can do is take on some carbs directly before your ride and reduce your usual fast acting insulin for this meal by up to 80%. Thinking about the work done rule again, remember that if you’re going to take on 500 calories before your ride, then you may not need as much calorie intake at the first part of your ride (until you’ve hit that 500cal notice on your garmin).

You’ll have to experiment here with both the size of this snack / meal and also the amount of insulin reduction, but I started with a 20% reduction on about a 40g carb (which is about 160 calories)…

Post-Ride Meals with Reduced Insulin Intake

As well as Pre-Ride meals, you can take post-ride meals… Personally I think these are far more important and for me stop those devastating “Post Ride Bonks” I suffer from – but I’ll talk more about those in a moment.

The same principals as above go for this one, however I usually find the that quicker I can get this meal or snack in me the better and also the size of meal depends on my total calorie output too. My goto ratio is a 50% reduction on the insulin for post ride meals and I make sure I get something in me within 20minutes of getting home. At the moment I got for High5 4:1 carb to protein a perfect post ride drink whilst I am getting changed showered or making a proper meal.

Checkout this High 5 Race Pack as a great starting point tho to try out their different products – it’s fantastic value and I often get them because you get a nice fresh bottle included too…

Again you’ll have to play with how big these snacks and meals need to be, but try keep a log of exactly how many calories your garmin said your ride was and how many calories you consumed afterwards and how much % of the total ride calories that equates to, and jot down your insulin reduction % on there too…

Fueling on the Ride

So we talked about using your Garmin to work out the calories you’re expending whilst riding, and I tend to try consume use about 50% of this whilst actually on the bike… I use a combination of gels whilst riding again all High 5 branded (you’d think I was endorsed but I’m not) predominately the standard energy gels but on longer rides where mental fatigue can play a part I throw in some of their PLUS gels into the mix which have caffeine in them too. Also on really hot days I tend to opt for their ISOGEL options which are isotonic gels so you don’t need to be drinking fluids to wash them down with to do their job…

So a High 5 gel typically contains around 90 calories with 23g of carbs. At my 50% rule I need to consume 125 calories in total per 250kcal alert. So i’m 35 short… Well in my bottles I also use High 5 Energy Source as hydration and fuel too… this contains approx 175 calories and 44g of carbs per 500ml bottle made up so I can drink about 1/5th of a bottle of this per Garmin’s 250kcal notification too. Again these are personal to me but it might be a nice guide for you to use…


I need to point out here that 100ml of fluid won’t be enough… and you should drink 500-1000ml per hour on the bike depending on heat and intensity. So I recommend a High 5 ZERO Hydration tab in your second bottle as your main hydration source… They’re carb free and come in a variety of flavours and both with or without caffein.


Coffee & Cafe Stops

So you might not always have time to throw in a stop on your rides, but if you can then Coffee & Cakes go hand in hand with cycling. It’s sort of an unwritten law…

Rule #56 // Espresso or macchiato only.

When wearing cycling kit and enjoying a pre or post ride coffee, it is only appropriate to drink espresso or macchiato. If the word soy/skim latte is heard to be used by a member wearing cycling apparel, then that person must be ceremonially beaten with Co2 canisters or mini pumps by others within the community

Ok so we don’t always abide by Rule #56, in fact I personally like a latte macchiato or latte whilst on the bike for a bit of extra calories, but on a serious note cafe stops are a great opportunity to get in some real food! I tend to navigate by cafes when I plan my routes, and like to take on board soups, sarnis, toasties, paninis, anything carb based really. Now I think of it that’s actually how I navigate anywhere in life, not just on the bike…

Go on, Give it a Go ! Experiment for yourself

So, as I’ve stated throughout, everyone is different, however I urge you to go and play with some or all of these techniques and find something that works for yourself. If you’ve got any questions please feel free to comment below and I will try to get back to you with my input when I can…

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