Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on June 01, 2020

Plan Ahead

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Have a light bite about 15 minutes before you lace up your sneakers. That’ll help you ward off hunger and keep your blood sugar levels stable. If have type 2 diabetes and take insulin, you may be more likely to have a drop in blood sugar during a workout. Take a reading before you start. If it's lower than 100 mg/dL, have something sweet like a handful of dried fruit or 4 ounces of juice, and wait until the number starts to rise before you get moving.

Get Creative

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If your blood sugar is under control, how much you need to eat depends mostly on how long and hard you plan to exercise. Start with some healthy carbs. Your body will digest them slowly. Mix in a little protein, healthy fats, and some fiber. That should keep you -- and your blood sugar -- revved up for the length of your sweat session. Try a dollop of tuna salad with a few whole-grain crackers, a frozen banana topped with almond butter, or avocado and cheese in a lettuce-leaf wrap.

Try a Smoothie

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If you’d rather sip than chew, a pre-workout smoothie is a great choice. Blend chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry-flavored whey-protein powder with unsweetened almond milk, cashew milk, or skim milk. Or pair Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon of nut butter and half a frozen banana or one large carrot.

In Case of Emergency

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Exercise can make your blood sugar levels drop, so keep something on hand that can bring them back up quickly. One or two all-natural fruit strips (a.k.a. fruit leather) are easy to keep in your gym bag for a quick burst when you need it. You can also try glucose tablets, a juice box, or a full-calorie sports drink.

Fuel Up for Long Sessions

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If you plan to do a lot of moving for more than an hour, you'll need something to keep you powered up. A meal-replacement bar with 30-50 grams of carbs is a good choice if you'll really be pushing yourself, like with a long hike or bike ride.

Post-Workout Eats Are Optional

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If you had a snack before you started moving and your workout wasn’t quite up to the level of a 10K or back-to-back cardio classes, then you might not need anything right after. Check your blood sugar about 15 minutes after you call it quits. If your reading is OK, you can go without.

Heed Your Hunger

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If your tummy is rumbling, your blood sugar is low, or you didn't have a snack before your workout, then by all means eat something. A small, balanced meal can help you recover more quickly. Try a granola bar and an apple or half a turkey sandwich.

Power Up With Protein

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A cup of plain Greek yogurt is another smart post-workout pick. It has more protein than regular types, and that’s what helps you build muscle when you're done exercising. Top it with some berries for natural sweetness and fiber. Or try a smoothie made with 2/3 cup fat-free milk, half a large frozen banana, 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, a few drops of vanilla extract, and a pinch of sea salt. That combo gives back the good things you just sweated out.

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Show Sources


1) Getty Images

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6) WebMD

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Lakewood Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic Hospital: "Type 2 Diabetes Pre-Exercise Blood Sugar Guidelines."

Michael Dansinger, MD, director of lifestyle coaching for diabetes weight loss, Tufts Medical Center; weight loss and nutrition advisor, The Biggest Loser.

Joslin Diabetes Center: "Exercise Snack Options."

Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; founder,

Sonya Angelone, RDN, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Scott Isaacs, MD, medical director, Atlanta Endocrine Associates; adjunct professor, Emory University School of Medicine.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist; author, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, American Diabetes Association, 2007.