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Type 1 diabetes shouldn’t hinder youth from playing sports

Apr 23, 2019

St. Joseph’s/Candler Athletic Trainer talks about the steps to help athletes stay healthy on the field

More than 18,000 youth are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year. Yes, they have to watch closely what they eat (shouldn’t we all?) and monitor their blood glucose level more frequently. That doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy everyday activities of any child, including playing sports.

“Physical activity, especially, is very helpful for people with type 1 diabetes,” says St. Joseph’s/Candler Sports Medicine Athletic Trainer Tori Osborne. “There’s absolutely no reason someone with type 1 diabetes can’t play sports. We actually encourage any type of exercise.”

Tori Osborne, St. Joseph’s/Candler Sports Medicine Athletic Trainer Osborne is currently an athletic trainer at Savannah Country Day School. She’s worked with several athletes of different sports who have type 1 diabetes, most frequently a member of the football team.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body makes little or no insulin due to an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is needed to help sugar (glucose) enter cells for energy. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, causing high blood glucose.

For those with type 1 diabetes, it’s important to balance insulin doses with the food you eat and the activity you do, whether it’s yard work, jogging or playing football. During exercise, your blood glucose response varies depending on:

  • Your blood glucose level before starting an activity
  • The intensity of the activity
  • The length of time you are active
  • Changes you’ve made to insulin doses

Additionally, things like mood, the weather and even an injury can have an effect on blood glucose, Osborne adds.

“It’s definitely a juggling act, but as long as you are monitoring throughout the day and know your body, it’s certainly manageable,” Osborne says.

Related Article: Beat the heat and stay cool with diabetes

The American Diabetes Association recommends a blood glucose level between 100 to 180 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). For football players, the ADA suggests a level between 150 to 250 mg/dl due to the physicality of the sport and the likelihood of a drop in blood glucose.

To monitor an athlete’s blood glucose level, Osborne follows the ADA’s recommendation to check levels an hour before, 30 minutes before and right at the start of practice or a game. Then, blood glucose should be checked every 30 minutes of activity.

If blood glucose drops lower than 70 mg/dl, a person is considered to be in a hypoglycemic state. Symptoms can range from weakness and nausea to hostility and aggression to a loss of consciousness.

A person becomes hyperglycemic when their blood sugar gets too high, typically above 180 to 200 mg/dl), which can also cause feelings of fatigue, dizziness and loss of consciousness.

“It’s important to monitor because an athlete can be doing great one minute and then feel nauseous the next because he dropped 50 milligrams per deciliter,” Osborne says. “It can drop just like that.”

If blood glucose gets to low, the athlete should drink a sports drink or eat an energy bar and take a short break from physical activity. If blood glucose becomes too high, a unit of insulin will need to be given.

One thing Osborne has learned in her years of treating athletes with type 1 diabetes is no two diabetics are alike. Even in the same athlete, Osborne has learned he or she may experience different symptoms at different points in their blood glucose level.

“One day, an athlete may feel a low at 55 and might start to feel sluggish. The next day, he might feel slow and sluggish at 80,” Osborne says. “It’s very important for the athlete to know their body and know how to respond to what they are feeling. It’s also very important for anyone that takes care of that athlete, whether a parent, athletic trainer or even a babysitter, to have an open line of communication with that athlete and know the signs when they are starting to feel a little low or a little high.”

Related Article: Eight misconceptions about diabetes

Overall, Osborne encourages those with type 1 diabetes to be active and not be afraid to give sports a try.

“They’ve learned so much about type 1 diabetes in the last 30 years or so that it’s really become something that is not hindering people from living their lives and doing what they want to do.”


About the Sports Medicine Program at St. Joseph’s/Candler

The St. Joseph’s/Candler Sports Medicine Program has been a leader in sports medicine since the late 1980s, setting the standard for athletic health care in high schools and colleges throughout Southeast Georgia. Some of the area schools our athletic trainers are in include Savannah Country Day, St. Andrew’s, Benedictine Military School, St. Vincent’s Academy and Savannah State University.

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