I’m not talking about “toning” or playing around with little 3- and 5-pound weights here – I’m talking about weightlifting. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for my blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
Since beginning to train seriously and regularly with weights four days a week (sometimes five if I have time), my insulin requirements have dropped significantly. This is because muscle requires much more “maintenance” than fat. Muscles need more calories to maintain themselves every day compared to fat. I used to need about 6 units of short-acting insulin for a bowl of oatmeal in the morning and now I literally only need 4, and if I’m on my way to a yoga class, I only need 2 units.
Let me explain it this way: Muscle is more expensive than fat. It costs more “money” to maintain them… and in your body, “money” is calories. So, the more muscle your body has, the more calories you’re going to use up in order to fuel your muscles. When people go on starvation-like diets and don’t eat enough calories in a day, the first part of your body to begin wasting away is muscle mass because it costs the most to maintain.
So, this means, when you spend a minimum of 30 minutes three to five days a week lifting weights and inevitably building more muscle, not only is the food you’re eating going to be put to better use, you’ll also be increasing your overall daily calorie needs. So, while your body may have once needed 2,000 calories (for example) to maintain your current weight, when you add five pounds of muscle onto your frame over time, you’re going to increase the number of calories you can consume each day.
Before I get into more details about actual weightlifting, I want to tell you first that you should ignore the scale for the first few months of weightlifting because while you’ll be losing fat, the number on the scale may not change as much as you think it should because you’ll be gaining muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat.
If you’re beginning to weightlift, I would suggest reading a basic weight-training book and, if you can afford it, hiring a personal trainer to simply show you the basics for two or three visits to the gym.
Weightlifting is much more complicated than most people realize, and it is really easy to do several things incorrectly. Some things to pay attention to:
- FORM. The way you move your body when holding a weight is crucial not only to the workout’s effectiveness, but to safety – lifting weights the wrong way can lead to injury.
- WEIGHT. It’s very easy to be using a weight that is too heavy or too light. As a beginner, you should be aiming to do 10 to 12 repetitions and three sets of an exercise before it becomes too difficult. As you progress, you should be adding weight and, eventually, even adding weight to the point that you can only do six repetitions of the exercise. When you’re doing six reps of an exercise, you can increase the number of sets you do to five sets.
- OVERTRAINING. You don’t want to work a muscle group (triceps, chest, biceps, hamstrings, quads, back, etc.) more than once or twice a week (beginners should only do once a week). You also never want to do more than three to five different exercises for that muscle group in a workout. Overtraining a muscle basically will keep your muscles from being able to grow. Remember, muscles grow during rest. When you’re working out, you’re breaking the muscle down;after your workout, the muscle rebuilds itself, and that is where your body is burning the most calories.
Another huge aspect of gaining the benefits from weightlifting is eating properly. I follow every workout with a protein shake containing 20 grams of protein. There used to be controversy over ingesting so much protein at one time, but studies have shown that the body can digest and use 20 grams of protein at a time and it does not cause kidney damage. When seriously weightlifting, you will find that you inevitably crave more protein and need that shake after your workout because it contains the amino-acids and protein that your muscles crave in order to begin rebuilding.
If there is an interest in weightlifting, I’d love to discuss it further with anyone and get into the more detailed aspects of how to add it into your daily life as a diabetic. Contrary to some peoples’ beliefs, women who weightlift heavily won’t end up looking masculine. Famous women body-builders who look awesomely huge take supplements, train much more heavily and frequently and eat strict diets to gain that much muscle.
The best advice I’d ever give anyone who is looking to lose weight and gain better control over their blood sugars is to consider weightlifting regularly. Of course, it’s best to ask your doctor before you begin – he or she can ensure whether it’s safe and healthy for you specifically.
Ginger Vieira has lived with Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease since 1999, and fibromyalgia since 2014. She is the author of Pregnancy with Type 1 Diabetes & Dealing with Diabetes Burnout & Emotional Eating with Diabetes & Your Diabetes Science Experiment. Ginger creates content regularly for Diabetes Strong, Healthline, HealthCentral, DiabetesDaily, EverydayHealth and her YouTube channel. Her background includes a B.S. in professional writing, certifications in cognitive coaching, Ashtanga yoga, and personal training,with several records in drug-free powerlifting. She lives in Vermont with her husband, their two daughters, and their dog, Pedro.