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Diabetes Still Isn't Easy
Diabetes Still Isn't Easy

FDI is dedicated to diabetes education, nutritional counseling, and wellness programming.

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Fuel Your Workout Without Expanding Your Waistline

If you live with diabetes and exercise regularly, you might have asked yourself, “What am I supposed to eat after my workouts?”  Gyms will have a conveniently placed juice bar right at the entrance, making it seem like everybody should be “refueling” post-workout with a super-sized smoothie. Health food stores will sell protein shakes and bars that claim to help “rebuild muscle” and “enhance performance.” So what is a person living with diabetes to do?

To answer that, first do a quick assessment of your exercise routine. How long and vigorously did you exercise? If you are exercising for less than 30 minutes at moderate intensity, you may not need to have a pre-or-post-workout snack at all! Moderate activity like walking may burn about 90-150 calories in 30 minutes (how much you burn depends on how much you weigh and how quickly you move), so drinking a 300 calorie protein shake afterwards could be undoing all the great work you just did!

Here are a few situational examples that might help you figure out when and if you need a snack before or after you exercise:

  1. Low Intensity: Susie just started exercising. She is easing into things by going for a walk around her neighborhood and ends up walking about a mile in 20 minutes. Susie would probably be just fine not having any snacks before or after her walk.  
  2. Moderate Intensity: Carlos has been walking for a few weeks and now wants to try jogging. He jogs for about 45 minutes at a moderate intensity (this means he can still easily talk while he is jogging). Carlos may benefit from having 5-6 whole wheat crackers before his jog to make sure his body has enough energy from carbohydrates to keep him feeling good while he runs.
  3. High Intensity: Jane is training for a triathlon and regularly goes for 20 mile bike rides and 8 mile runs. Jane would definitely need to eat a carbohydrate rich snack before and after her workout, and it would be a good idea for Jane to sip on an oral rehydration sports drink (like Gatorade) during her workouts, since she will need a quickly digested source of carbohydrate to keep her going.

When it comes to snacking, one size does not fit all! The more intense your exercise, the more fuel your body will need. One thing that holds true for everybody who exercises: It is best to avoid high fat foods or heavy meats right before working out. These foods will make your stomach empty more slowly, which keeps the food you just ate from being used as energy during your workout. It can also be really uncomfortable (think of how you’d feel going for a run after Thanksgiving dinner!). 

Talk to your diabetes educator to see if you should be checking your blood sugar before, during or after your workouts. Knowing your blood sugar can be helpful in figuring out what types of snacks are right for you.

Note: If you have Type 1 diabetes, there will be a few more factors to consider when choosing workout snacks, including insulin dosing and timing. It’s best to speak to your diabetes educator to make an individual plan for you. 

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About the Author


Megan is a nutritionist and diabetes educator at the Friedman Diabetes Institute in New York.