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The Impact of Glucose on our Daily Lives: Exercise

Florence Comite MD

February 7, 2022
Glucose and Exercise

It seems intuitive to assume sugar would drop in response to exercise. Your glucose, however, can rise or fall depending on your unique response to the type of exercise. Keeping a close eye on how you respond to different activities will ultimately help you appreciate how best to optimize your sugar.

Why Glucose Rises During Exercise

Exercise, particularly high-impact exercise, triggers the release of adrenaline, which raises sugar as part of the ‘fight or flight’ response that evolution has hard-wired into our genes, providing fuel for skeletal muscle contractions. This potent stress hormone enables lightning-fast delivery of glucose from the liver into the bloodstream and tissues to power the muscles, enabling our escape from predators in the past or today’s threats or helping us to find the strength to fight them.

Of course, when we encounter modern-day threats, our primitive brains will still respond in this way to sudden bursts of activity such as running for a bus or trying to beat our personal best in the gym. In addition, the increased presence of other glucocorticoids such as cortisol increases the availability of glucose to the brain.

Are Some Exercises Better than Others?

Exercise type, intensity, and duration are all variables to consider when striving to minimize hyperglycemic (elevated glucose) events during exercise. Even the time of day you choose to exercise could be a factor. Though what is considered “intense” differs from one person to another, as would the insulin response, which is why it is crucial to monitor glucose closely before and after a workout, particularly if you are starting a new exercise regimen.

What Happens Post-Workout?

Once the activity ends, sugar levels are ideally brought back to optimal by insulin. Those with impaired insulin response, however, including pre-diabetics and especially Type 1 and Type 2 insulin-dependent diabetics, cannot do this as well. Failure to reduce glucose would result in a hyperglycemic (high glucose) state which carries with it the risk of life-threatening complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis. Glucose can rise into the hundreds. In this situation, therefore, they would need more insulin, not less.

Will pre- or post-workout snacks help?

What you consume before and after you exercise is also important to maintain optimal glucose control and minimize any unwanted negative side effects from high or low sugar readings. Recommendations will vary depending on your personal response to various foods,as a general rule you should plan in advance and fuel yourself with nutritious foods so you’re not left craving sugary snacks. Plus, it’s wise to ensure that you have adequately fed and hydrated yourself before embarking on any exercise, whether that’s a 60-minute intense Peloton class or a day-long strenuous hike. Bring the right nutrients and fluid to keep balance throughout. Be aware though, some folks do best with fasting prior to exercise, particularly if the exercise is not too lengthy or intense.

At Groq Health, we use continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) to enable our app members to monitor their sugar in response to sleep, nutrition, exercise, and other factors. Each member’s data is collected and the dots are connected on an N-of-1 basis using our groundbreaking personalized app. For more information, visit www.groqhealth.com.


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