Skip to main content
Go to homepage

Print Page

Diabetes and Sports Factsheet (for Schools)

What Coaches Should Know

Diabetes affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. Glucose comes from the foods we eat and gives energy to the cells. A hormone called insulin helps glucose get into the cells. Insulin is made in the pancreas.

When a person has diabetes, either their pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or their body can't respond normally to the insulin that is made (type 2 diabetes). In both types of diabetes, when glucose can’t get into the cells, the glucose level in the blood rises. Treatment for diabetes lowers the blood glucose level into a healthy range.

Exercise makes insulin work better in the body, which helps people with diabetes keep their blood sugar levels in a healthier range. But when kids with diabetes exercise, they can experience low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia, or high blood sugar, called hyperglycemia.

Hypoglycemia(low blood sugar levels) can happen during or after exercise if the body uses up much of its stored glucose, especially if insulin levels in the body are still high after an insulin injection.

  • Low blood glucose symptoms include hunger, shakiness, fast heart rate, dizziness, headache, moodiness, and confusion.

Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) can happen during sports and exercise because the muscles need more energy and the body responds by releasing extra glucose into the bloodstream. If the body doesn't have enough insulin to use the glucose, then the sugar stays in the blood.

  • High blood glucose symptoms include thirst, peeing more than usual, dry mouth, and dehydration. When high blood glucose isn’t treated, a person might get sicker and develop nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, fruity breath, and confusion.

Students with diabetes who play sports may:

  • need to monitor blood glucose levels before and after playing sports or practicing
  • take insulin injections or wear an insulin pump
  • need to use the bathroom frequently
  • need plenty of water and extra snacks before, during, and after exercise
  • need to sit out of practice or games if their blood sugar is too low or too high

What Coaches Can Do

Students with diabetes can play sports and exercise at the same level as anyone else. Just like most kids and teens, they're healthier if they get plenty of exercise, which can help them manage the disease.

Coaches should:

  • know the symptoms of high blood sugar and low blood sugar
  • have a copy of the diabetes management plan and know what to do in an emergency
  • give students any needed reminders to check their blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise 
  • keep extra snacks, juices, and emergency supplies on the playing field in case a student has low blood sugar
  • be supportive in case of missed practices or games due to high or low blood glucose, doctor visits, or hospital stays
  • encourage students to exercise and play sports at the same level as their peers. Regular exercise is an important part of managing diabetes.

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date Reviewed: Oct 2, 2023

What next?

By using this site, you consent to our use of cookies. To learn more, read our privacy policy.