Unless you have it yourself, diabetes can seem like a very complicated and scary condition. But as a coach or athletic trainer, understanding it and knowing how your athlete with diabetes controls it can help prevent any complications.

Every person with diabetes is different. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce the proper amount of insulin to manage the glucose levels in the blood. There are two major types: Type 1 (juvenile-onset) is found in children or young adults and is chronic and not preventable. Type 2 (adult-onset) is found in the older population and can be prevented with proper diet and exercise. Both types are managed through diet and exercise and medication – type 2 is managed through pills, and type 1 is regulated by insulin, which is administered through a regimen of shots or insulin-pump therapy. Most athletes will be either on shots or a pump.

Insulin shots are taken at specific times of the day, which requires the athlete to time meals and exercise to correlate with the off-time and peak-time of the insulin. Physicians can prescribe different regimens based on the patient – in this case, your athlete – and his/her needs and lifestyle. Insulin-pump therapy is a method of continuous insulin delivery that can allow for better control of blood sugar levels and more schedule flexibility for the athlete. The athlete just needs to monitor and adjust the pump’s insulin activity accordingly.

See the signs (below) of low and high blood sugar; if your athlete’s blood sugar is not within a safe, normal level, do not have him/her exercise. Exercise some-times has the same effect on blood sugar as insulin and is most likely to lower your athlete’s blood sugar even more. Exercise is also not recommended with high blood sugar when ketones (determined through a urine test) are present.

Through communication and awareness of symptoms of diabetes, you and your athlete can work together to help control his/her diabetes and enjoy a successful athletic endeavor.

Signs of Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia/insulin shock)

  • Tingling in mouth, hands or other body parts
  • Physical weakness, shakiness
  • Abnormal, profuse sweating
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Hunger
  • Impaired vision

Signs of High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia/diabetic coma)

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • Labored breathing or gasping for air
  • Mental confusion or unconsciousness
  • Other Tips

The athlete should:

  • Consult with a physician before participating
  • Test blood sugar before and after practice, and whenever signs of high or low blood sugar occur
  • Eat a snack before practice or games
  • Have a source of glucose (tabs or gel) available during practice and games

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy