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Nutrition and Physical Activity for People With Diabetes

Exercise is important for a strong, healthy body. It is also an important piece of your diabetes management plan. Exercise may help you to:

  • Lower your blood glucose (sugar)
  • Maintain or lose weight
  • Cope with stress

Exercise Tips

You should check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. He or she will tell you which exercise program is right for you. Here are some other tips:

  • Try to exercise at the same time each day.
  • You may need to eat a snack before and/or after exercising to prevent low Hypoglycemia (blood glucose).
  • The amount of food you should eat for a snack will be based on your blood glucose level (see guidelines that follow).
  • If you have Type 1 diabetes, do not exercise if your blood glucose is above 240
    mg/dl with ketones or above 300 mg/dl without ketones. You may not have enough insulin to handle your increased need for glucose. Your blood glucose may rise and put you at risk for ketosis. Call your doctor if your blood glucose is at this level.
  • Drink plenty of fluids during long periods of exercise.
  • Always carry a carbohydrate source and an identification bracelet or wallet card.
  • Be alert to signs of low blood glucose including: feeling nervous, clammy, hungry, weak or like you are going to pass out. Treat immediately with a carbohydrate source (see recommended carbohydrate foods in the table below).

Before Exercising

It’s important to test your blood glucose before you exercise, so it doesn’t go too low. The chart on the next page will tell you the type and amount of food you should eat, if any, depending on your blood glucose level and the type of exercise you plan to do.

Exercise chart

Type of Exercise Examples of Exercise If Your Blood Glucose Level Is Increase Food Intake By
Low Intensity: less than 30 minutes Leisurely biking or walking Less than 100 mg/dl

Greater than 100 mg/dl
15 g carbs (or 1 carb choice)

no snack needed
Medium Intensity: 30 minutes to 1 hour Swimming, tennis, biking, jogging, low-impact aerobics Less than 100 mg/dl

100 to 180 mg/dl

180 to 250 mg/dl
30g carbs + 7g protein (2 carb choices + 1 protein choice)

15g carbs + 7g protein (1 carb choice + 1 protein choice)

no snack needed
High Intensity: 1 to 2 hours Hockey, football, basketball, running, high-impact aerobics, shoveling heavy snow Less than 100 mg/dl

100 to 190 mg/dl

180 to 250 mg/dl
45g carbs + 7g protein (3 carb choices + 1 protein choice)

30g carbs + 7g protein (2 carb choices + 1 protein choice)

15g carbs (1 carb choice)


*Note: If you exercise longer than 2 hours, add 1 to 2 starches for each additional hour.

Types of Food Examples
15 grams of carbs 3 graham crackers, or 1 apple, or 6 crackers
30 grams of carbs + 7 grams of protein 2 slices of bread and 1 slice of cheese, or 1 large bananna and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
45 grams of carbs + 7 grams of protein 6 graham crackers and 1/2 banana and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter


After Physical Activity

Check your blood glucose level after you exercise. If your blood glucose level is low, you may have to eat another snack. If no meal or snack is scheduled in the next 1/2 to 1 hour and your blood glucose is less than 100 mg/dl, eat any food containing 15 grams of carbs. If no meal or snack is scheduled for more than 1 hour and your blood glucose is less than 100 mg/dl, eat foods containing 15 grams of carbs and 7 grams of protein.

If you feel that your blood glucose may be low while you are exercising, stop the activity and drink juice or take glucose tablets. Check your blood glucose again after 15 minutes and follow the guidelines in the exercise chart.

The table below gives examples of carbohydrates you can eat if you have low blood glucose.

Carbohydrate Source Amount
Glucose tablets 3 to 4 tablets
Raisins 2 Tablespoons
Non-diet soft drinks 4 to 6 ounces
Fruit Juice 4 to 6 ounces
Milk (fat-free or low-fat) 8 ounces
Lifesavers or similar hard candy 6 to 7 candies


For more information on low blood glucose, see the UPMC patient education sheet Diabetes: Short-Term Problems.

Reviewed July 2013​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

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