Back in October I was scrolling through the highlights of the inaugural Myabetic Diabetes awards hosted in Hollywood. I happened to come across an Irish person winning the award of 'Fitness Male Influencer of the Year' amongst the many Americans. As a fellow Irish person with diabetes, I immediately had to follow him. That person was Eoin Costelloe, a Type 1 diabetic personal trainer. In the few months that I have been following Eoin (@insuleoin) I've learned an incredible amount about working out with diabetes just from watching his stories. He shares the behind the scenes of both exercising and general living with Type 1 diabetes on his Instagram with myself and his other 15K followers. With over seven years of experience in personal training, it's needless to say that Eoin knows what he's talking about.
In this interview, he shares his expertise and top tips for achieving every-day fitness and health with Type 1. Enjoy!
When you first start to introduce exercise into a routine, you can become more susceptible to low blood sugars. What hypo treatment do you recommend and how do you make them as infrequent as possible?
I feel that the first couple weeks of exercise can be the most difficult for a diabetic who is just beginning to workout. As you said, when first introduced to exercise, you can become more susceptible to low blood sugars. It can be a big shock to your system, both physically and mentally. For the treatment itself, while working out, I would recommend a ‘sugary’ drink. Having a liquid at hand is the fastest way to get glucose into your bloodstream and bring your levels back up.
My top tip for making low blood sugars as infrequent as possible is ‘anticipation’. Looking ahead and knowing what your workout is going to be like will give you the opportunity to prevent any hypos before they even happen. For example, taking less insulin or eating a small snack before you begin exercising.
What’s your advice for any diabetic clients that have a sugar spike when training with weights?
This is a problem almost every diabetic who is involved in exercise will encounter. Just like anticipating whether or not you will experience a low blood sugar, you can also anticipate a blood sugar spike. I will always encourage diabetic clients to live and exercise with great detail. Learning why, how and when your blood sugar will respond to various foods and activities is essential. My advice for a diabetic who often sees spikes while working out, is to either begin or finish a weights session with LISS cardio (Low Intensity Steady State). Slow paced cardio will generally bring your blood sugar down. This can be used to combat a spike before OR after weights.
What do you recommend to have pre-workout?
I’ve found that consuming ‘Fats’ pre-workout is very effective. The majority of the time we get our energy from Calories. Fat has the highest number of Calories per 1gram out of any other Macronutrient (Protein, Carbs, Fat). No surprise there!
1g Fat = 9 Calories
1g Carb = 4 Calories
1g Protein = 4 Calories
Consuming a higher Fat, pre-workout meal will provide your body with sufficient Calories (energy) to fuel your body through the workout, while also preventing the need for insulin - therefore reducing the chances of a hypo during training.
What do you recommend to have post-workout?
Post-workout can be a very uncertain time for diabetics, with regard to blood sugars. Your blood sugar can still be influenced from the workout for 2-3 hours after you get home. It can still be rising OR dropping.
Firstly, I’d recommend to keep an extra close eye on your blood sugar so you can spot certain trends with your levels. Secondly, if you’re referring specifically towards nutrition and what’s beneficial for your body and its recovery, of course protein. I usually have just a high protein meal to help my muscles recover and to give my blood sugar time to ‘settle’ naturally.
Do you recommend protein shakes?
Yes, I’ve included protein shakes into my diet for years now and I think they’re great. They’re a very convenient way to fuel your body with sufficient protein. Saying that, protein shakes are only a minute part of training and exercise. It’s basically just the equivalent of drinking a chicken breast - not literally haha.
I feel that people often weigh too much emphasis on protein shakes and supplements as a whole. These aren’t magic potions that will get you in shape over a number of weeks or months. There seems to be a universal misconception that supplements are the most important aspect of exercise. A crappy diet with supplements is still a crappy diet.
If you want your body to look a certain way, lose weight or get stronger, your focus needs to be on filling your diet with nutrient dense, whole foods. Supplements are just an extra 1%.
What’s your favourite energy booster for a workout?
I usually will just stick to a black coffee. I’ve never got too caught up about ‘pre-workout’ drinks or supplements. For me, working out is such a major part of my life and something I enjoy so much. It’s never a chore. When I go to the gym, I know what I need to do to feel fulfilled and satisfied from my workout. I feel like I don’t need much more of a boost than that!
What’s the most common mistake you find diabetics doing when they want to get in shape but it’s just not working?
Not monitoring the food they eat. This is a mistake for most people, not just diabetics.
The vast majority of people out there don’t know what they’re consuming each day. Yes, they physically know what they’re eating, but when it comes to Calories and Macronutrients, they’ve no clue about the numbers, how could they know?
‘Getting in shape’, fit and healthy, or making your body look the way you want it to, isn’t easy. It’s a long process. The only way you can be 100% confident that you’re moving in the right direction towards your desired goal is to know what’s going into your body.
If you aren’t tracking your foods, it’s just a guessing game and inevitably you will be consistently inconsistent with what you’re feeding your body with.
I would suggest that everybody, not just those who are into their fitness, should track the food they eat for a short space of time, at least. By doing this you take notice of food’s nutritional value and have a better understanding about what is actually on your plate.
What exercise do you find is the easiest to do while maintaining a stable blood sugar?
Generally, blood sugars are easier to maintain and keep steady if you weight train with ‘smaller’ muscle groups, rather than larger or cardiovascular exercise. Blood sugars usually rise when we engage in intense resistance training. This happens because our bodies are being put under stress. This stress results in the release of hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and glucagon. When this occurs, our body will release Glycogen (stored glucose) for energy from our liver and muscle cells. This glycogen is then converted into glucose within the bloodstream, resulting in our blood sugars rising. With cardio, the opposite happens and we are more inclined to experience low blood sugars.
Because of this, I find it easiest to maintain steady levels if I train ‘small’ muscle groups like ‘arms’. I typically never see a spike, or a drop. Usually this is a workout with no complications.
How many workouts a week would you recommend for a diabetic?
This would purely depend on the person’s specific goals that they’re aiming for. There’s no magic number of workouts that will work best for everyone. We’re all different and our bodies require many variations of workouts, number of days, rest times, meals etc.
Without being too strenuous, no matter how seriously you may view your exercise goals or overall regime, I would recommend to stay active. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Consistent exercise will improve insulin sensitivity, release endorphins (happy hormones), suppress cravings for unhealthy foods and promote a healthier life with Diabetes. Exercise is a crucial part of Diabetes management.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about being a personal trainer with type 1?
In general, living life with Diabetes can be extremely difficult at times and that’s why it’s so important to stay on top of things. With regard to what I do, it’s definitely more detailed than a personal trainer who isn’t Diabetic and doesn’t work with Diabetic clients. I’m focused on everything that a personal trainer should be focused on. I want to ensure that all my clients are happy, working hard, responsible and are on track to reaching whatever goal they want to achieve. On top of that, I am keen to stay on top of how their blood sugars are. I need to make sure that their Diabetes is as controlled as possible and they feel good working with me. I do my best to educate them all about the condition, how they can manipulate their exercise and nutritional routines so that they can continue to train hard and strive with Diabetes.
What is your top tip for any diabetics who want to get in shape but are afraid of exercising and the hypos that can come with it?
Never be afraid of your Diabetes. A great mentality to have is to respect your Diabetes, treat it with its deserved severity but don’t fear it or let it prevent you from doing ANYTHING in life.
It can be a nervous time when you’re beginning to workout. The only way you’re going to do it, is to just go for it! Start with simple exercises and nothing too intense. Keep a constant eye on your blood sugar and monitor your levels as much as you can. It can be frustrating having to check your blood sugar more frequently than you usually would but it’s vital.
This is how you will learn about your body and your Diabetes. By monitoring your blood sugar more often, you will find it easier to spot trends with spikes and drops, you’ll realise what influence certain foods and exercise have on your body. It can be tricky in the short term but exercise is an indispensable tool towards a healthier Diabetic life.
What is your top tip for maintaining muscle and strength with type 1?
My top tip to maintain muscle with Type 1 is to control your Type 1. You can have amazing workouts 6 days a week, be completely on top of your nutrition - fuelling your body with the sufficient nutrients it needs and get 8 hours sleep every night, but if your Diabetes isn’t under control, you’ve no hope of building muscle and you certainly won’t maintain it.
Essentially, our bodies don’t work as they’re supposed to when our blood sugars fluctuate from high to low. If your blood sugar is high, your body isn’t capable of using the nutrients from the food you eat. There is not enough insulin in your bloodstream to ‘open’ your cells, so that these nutrients can be absorbed and used as energy. As a result, your body will use stored fat and muscle for that energy.
When your blood sugar is low, you have to consume additional, ‘unwanted’ calories. Calories that you may have just intentionally burned in the gym. This can lead to you consuming excess Calories and therefore throwing you way off track with regard to your fitness ambitions.
Moral of the story… if you want to build and maintain muscle with Diabetes, be the master of your Diabetes!