The Impact of High Blood Sugars
on Athletic Performance
Some people (those unfamiliar with Type 1 Diabetes) equate the “sugar high” of a small child with that of a T1D high blood sugar (glucose level). Any T1D will tell you that is far from the truth. I have had non-diabetics “joke” with me “You should just load yourself up with a bunch of sugar, get real high and you’ll be bouncing off the walls.”
Keep in mind, I like a little diabetes humor in my life and I value my friends for their creativity. My best friends know me well enough to join me in making fun of, and finding humor, in the disease. I know everyone is different but I feel laughter is just good for the soul!
But in this case, it’s not really as fun as it sounds and let me explain why…
Writing “under the influence”…
This particular blog is very easy for me to write as I was experiencing some low blood sugars earlier today. Then my levels spiked unexpectedly at dinner. Now you could say I am definitely writing this “under the influence” …of my 310 blood sugar from 10 minutes ago!
High Blood Sugars aren't much fun at all
So instead of “bouncing off the walls” as some presume, my cheeks and lips are feeling uncomfortably dry. Even though I was in the restroom 10 minutes ago, I have that slight need “to go” feeling. My legs are a little tingly, and I’m a bit light‑headed.
Blood sugar levels can affect performance from school athletics to the professional level.
The Better control, the more your feel it…
If you are a Type 1 Diabetic, you know what I’m talking about. If you are not, I hope I have enlightened you as to why this is not as much fun as you might think. It’s common, it happens more than we T1s like to admit . And it can actual do some pretty serious damage to my body over time.
The symptoms can vary from person to person and even from event to event. And the better control you have on your blood sugars, the more you feel the effect when you do go “high”.
Dealing with High Blood Sugars in the NFL
As an athlete, both at Rice University and in the NFL, I have learned a lot about dealing with high blood sugars and their impact on performance. For some reason, my time with the St. Louis Rams is more memorable than others, maybe because the Rams played in a dome.
Different environments, different adjustments
I learned to read my body thru the years and knew the impact a “dome” environment would have in detail. Things like humidity, heat index, etc. don’t “trick” your mind and you don’t feel their effect as much. I learned to make different “adjustments” when I was going to be competing in a dome.
High Blood Sugars meant half the number of plays…
I was 6’3” tall and 265 lbs at my preferred playing weight. On a “good” game day (defined as level blood sugars for several days prior), I could handle 5 kickoffs at full speed and compete in 8 consecutive plays before my body began to slow down, negatively affect my performance.
What would really make me mad was going into a game when I was high (blood sugar that is). No matter how hard I tried and how much I didn’t want it to happen, the number of plays I could compete in would be cut in half. If I could normally do 8 plays, I would only be able to complete in 4 plays at my top speed.
Dehydration is dangerous….
If I was high the night before the game, it might be even worse. A high night time blood sugar meant my body had hours to dehydrate before I even realized it.
Dehydration is not only dangerous.
It can also cripple the performance of any athlete.
And, as an athlete with diabetes, this will happen whether you are disciplined with your water intake or not.
If you sleep all night with a high blood sugar you will wake up dehydrated.
CGMs made a difference for me
CGMs (Continuous Glucose Monitors) made a huge difference for me in this area. Everyone has their own opinion on CGMs, but for me, using a CGM made a difference in my athletic performance.
Before my CGM, I used to set my alarm every couple of hours, get up and check my blood sugar. Now, I love my sleep as much as any man, but I’d rather be woken up in the middle of the night and give myself a shot, than to wake up dehydrated and feeling like I didn’t sleep at all.
Being woken up 4 times a night to check my blood sugar vs. waking up high is a pretty crummy choice to have to make…
I recall going back and forth on this issue, and that should tell you that when my professional career was on the line, it was important enough to try some pretty drastic measures!
CGMs do offer an advantage
So it’s my personal view that CGMs offer an advantage for Type 1 Diabetic athletes. You can get great sleep the night before a game, waking only if your blood sugar gets above the range you set. If your blood sugar stays stable thru the night then you get great sleep without interruption.
Either way, you are better prepared to perform at your best.
The point is…
Whatever works for you- whether its traditional testing or a CGM- the point is to keep those glucose readings level.
High Blood sugars wreak havoc on your body so do whatever you can to keep level. And especially avoid the night time highs!
It’s worth the effort and it can be done…you will see a huge difference in your performance!
This information provided for general use only.
It is not intended as medical and/or legal advice.
Always consult your doctor for medical advice.
All Rights Reserved.
Written by Brandon Green
published on 5/16/2017 by Type 1 To Go
Brandon Green was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 10. He has played a multitude of sports throughout High School. He has a degree in Kinesiology from Rice University where he played football throughout college. Brandon played in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams and ended his career with the Seattle Seahawks. In addition to playing sports at all levels, Brandon has coached Middle School and High School sports. For athletics and diabetes, he brings a complete perspective from player to coach.
An avid spokesman for Type 1 Diabetes, Brandon Green is a motivational speaker encouraging children and families living with diabetes. In addition to his professional career with Sundance Memory Care, he blogs and provides support for www.Type1ToGo.com. For more information on Brandon Green, please visit his page here.
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