Diabetes will not prevent you from increasing strength and building muscle. However, there are more factors to consider to maximise your training results and increase muscle mass. We will cover how to make muscles grow, how diabetes may impact your results and how to overcome these potential problems, as well as providing our top 9 tips to improve your training results.
How to build muscle with diabetes
Muscle growth, when put simply, is achieved through a three-step process. These steps are completing exercise (in particular resistance training), consuming the necessary nutrients, and resting in between workouts.
How does this make the muscles grow?
When you do resistance training your muscle fibres undergo trauma in the form of micro tears. When your muscles are injured in this way, satellite cells on the outside of the muscle fibres become activated. They attempt to repair the damage by joining together and as a result, increasing the muscle fibre.
Consuming adequate protein is critical in this process. The role of protein in the body is to build and repair tissues, and therefore increased protein consumption is required during periods of exercising to fuel your muscles and repair your cells. This process is also referred to as muscle protein synthesis.
Why is muscle protein synthesis important?
This is essentially the creation of new muscle tissue from amino acids (amino acids are small molecules that combine to form proteins). When you eat protein, protein synthesis rates rise, and if they exceed breakdown rates, the result is muscle gain. Alternatively, if protein breakdown rates rise (for example when you are in a fasted state), and exceed synthesis rates, the result is muscle loss.
Top ways to increase muscle mass with diabetes
Muscle growth is essentially the result of protein synthesis rates exceeding protein breakdown rates over time.
How to increase protein synthesis:
- Progressively overloading muscles in the gym.
- High protein diet.
- Consume enough calories to prevent calorie deficit.
- Limiting cardio.
How may diabetes prevent muscle growth?
Hyperglycaemia (where the level of sugar in your blood gets too high)
When blood glucose levels get too high, the glucose cannot get out of blood vessels into other cells to be used for energy. This results in cells using energy from different sources, mainly ketones and amino acids. The consequences of this are an increase in protein breakdown and a decrease in protein synthesis, the opposite of what is required for muscle growth.
This is emphasised the higher the blood glucose levels are.
Uncontrolled diabetes can result in extra stresses and the burden of living with the condition adds a lot of psychological pressures on a daily basis. Added psychological stress can increase levels of fatigue, reduce motivation and cause an upset stomach, all of which can negatively impact your results in training.
Blood glucose levels during training
Exercise can cause fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Aerobic exercise has been known to reduce blood glucose levels, whereas anaerobic exercise may increase blood glucose levels.
This may differ depending on other factors, for example fitness level, carbohydrate consumption and insulin in circulation.
Going high or low when training can impact the effectiveness of workout and may reduce your overall results.
How to overcome difficulties when training with diabetes
Your blood glucose control should be central in your training regime. If you prioritise this then everything else will fall into place.
Aim to be the best version of you, but don’t aim to be ‘perfect’. Life does not work this way and many obstacles will come your way on your journey.
Track your blood glucose levels around training times and look for trends when you are going high/low. If you can spot trends and prevent these from happening in the future your results, as well as motivation, will continue on a positive trend.
Be willing to learn. The more you know about the condition the more likely your outcomes will be success.
Surround yourself with a good peer group and experts in the area. This may be online or offline depending on your situation.
9 proven training tips for diabetics to increase muscle mass
- Have good blood glucose management. Fixate on this target to start with to enhance chances of other successes.
- Consume enough protein – recommended protein consumption is 1.7-2g/kg/day for increasing muscle mass.
- Carbohydrates may be needed after exercise to prevent hypoglycaemia.
- Lift heavy weights, increasing weight or repetitions regularly.
- Work your biggest muscles. Compound exercises are great for this.
- Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats.
- Ensure you are getting sufficient rest to give muscles time to recover.
- Be patient and committed. Muscle growth doesn’t happen quickly and consuming too much food too quickly will make it harder to manage blood glucose levels.
- Small consistent results completed over a long period result in huge results. We’ve all heard the saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.