Health Topics

Diabetes: Exercise and Nutrition

You can make a difference in your blood glucose control. To keep your blood glucose levels within goal range, you need to balance your food, diabetes medications (if taken), and physical activity. By familiarizing yourself with each of these factors, you will be able to achieve optimal blood glucose goals.

What is the role of carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source. About half of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrate choices include bread, grains and starchy vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and sweets. These foods break down into sugar in our blood. This sugar is then stored and used for energy. Insulin is needed to transport the sugar in the blood to its storage area. In diabetes, a lack of insulin or too little insulin results in high blood sugar levels.

What is carbohydrate counting and how does it work?

Carbohydrate counting involves determining the amount of carbohydrate that is right for you and distributing that amount evenly over your meals. Reading food labels and becoming familiar with serving sizes will help you achieve this. For example, a breakfast consisting of 1 slice of toast with 1 tsp peanut butter, half a banana, and 1 cup of milk = 3 carbohydrate servings or 45 grams of carbohydrate. (1 serving = 15 grams of carbohydrate). A registered dietitian can help you learn more about carbohydrate counting and help you decide how much carbohydrate you should have each day.

Are some carbohydrates better than others?

Choose your carbohydrates by the amount of fiber they contain. More and more research is showing that a higher fiber style of eating is a very healthy way to eat. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, so you won’t find fiber in meats, fats, or dairy products. Fiber foods are usually higher in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Look for whole grains (breads and cereals that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient) and side dishes such as barley, whole grain pastas, brown rice, beans, and lentils. Wash fruits and leave the skin on when eating them. Choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned. The less processed foods are, the more fiber they contain.

How often should I exercise?

Exercise improves fitness, increases insulin sensitivity, maintains bone health, helps in weight management, and improves sleep patterns. Exercise can help lower blood glucose levels, which is why exercising in the morning or after a meal might naturally help to lower any higher blood glucose levels. Exercise includes many activities—walking, swimming, biking, tennis, gardening, lawn-mowing. Think of what you like to do, then get moving! Exercise should include 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity (50-70 percent of maximum heart rate). In addition, people with Type 2 diabetes should be encouraged to perform resistance training three times per week. Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

As you work to achieve optimal blood glucose control, it is important that you recognize the roles that exercise and diet play. To help develop a meal plan that is right for your lifestyle, contact a registered dietitian.

For more information, visit Cleveland Clinic’s Endocrinology and Metabolism Institute.