In type 2 diabetes, a person’s pancreas produces insulin, and oftentimes, a normal amount. The problem is in the muscle cells, specifically, the insulin-receptor sites on muscle cells.
In type 2 diabetes, the impairment is in the receptor sites’ ability to uptake glucose (blood sugar) from the insulin that transports it to these receptor sites.
There may be plenty of these receptor sites, but enough of them are impaired to create a deficient glucose supply to hungry muscle cells.
Or, most of the receptor sites may be working properly, but there’s a shortage of them. Either way, the muscle cells end up getting stiffed of their fuel supply: glucose.
Exercise has long been urged by physicians as a way of controlling this disease, because it lowers blood sugar. Because the receptor sites are inefficient at receiving glucose, the glucose level builds up in the blood, causing chronically high blood sugar.
Over time, this will cause cardiovascular damage and increase the risk of several conditions including dementia, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Exercise helps prevent persistently high glucose levels because it forces muscles to be more efficient at uptaking glucose.
When the receptor sites are “good at” receiving this fuel from the hormone insulin, they are non-resistant, or sensitive, to insulin.
When the uptaking ability (also known as glucose metabolism) is impaired, this is known as insulin resistance; the sites are insensitive to insulin. What can be done to improve insulin sensitivity?
Training With Type 2 Diabetes For Building Muscle
Type 2 diabetics should include strength training in their lifestyle, with the goal of increasing lean mass.
This doesn’t mean that someone with this condition needs to bulk up. It means the goal of adding more muscle tissue. This can be done without appearing bulked up.
However, for type 2 diabetics who are wondering if they can bulk up, or if it’s safe to work at bulking up, here is great news: Yes, there is no reason why they can’t pursue the goal of building big muscles.
Weight training with diabetes is safe, as long as the trainee ensures a steady supply of carbohydrates to prevent blood sugar from diving, and as long as other guidelines are met, such as working out the same time every day and keeping track of glucose readings before, during and right after the workout.
Why Do Exercise And Diabetes (Particularly Lifting Weights) Go Hand-In-Hand?
Here is what the June 2008 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism states: “Physical activity is like a ‘secret weapon’ to help fight the diabetes.
When you exercise, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin. This means that it takes less insulin to manage your diabetes.”
Let’s take this a step further: specific type of exercise. Weight lifting is better than aerobics or cardio for diabetes exercise.
A report in the June 2009 Circulation: American Heart Association Journal states: “Unlike aerobic training, higher intensities of resistance training (3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions at 75 percent to 85 percent of 1 repetition maximum) have not only shown benefits but also have been well tolerated by patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.”
The mere contraction of muscle fiber pulls in blood sugar molecules; muscle contractions against moderate to heavy resistance help stabilize blood sugar levels. Bigger muscles mean a bigger storage tank for glucose.
Plus, lifting moderate to heavy weights increases the number of insulin receptor sites on muscle cells.
Another thing to consider is that this disease tends to diminish the supply of blood to the extremities, which is why a diabetic can have a foot injury, even a deep cut on the foot, and not feel the pain.
Numb fingertips and toes are one of the symptoms of diabetes, though sometimes, a person has no symptoms. This numbness is from restricted blood flow (and can also be caused by nerve damage).
Hitting the metal hard forces blood to surge to the extremities, which is exactly what the diabetic needs.
Yet another reason that diabetics need to build muscle is because this disease can cause loss of muscle tissue.
When muscle cells are shorted of their fuel supply (glucose), they begin feeding off of each other (catabolism, the opposite of anabolism).
This is why diabetes and weight loss often go together, the lost weight being not just fat, but muscle. Lifting weights will valiantly fight this process.
Weight Training And Diabetes: Best Exercises
The July 2011 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reports that the more muscle mass someone has, the lower the risk of developing insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is what happens in type 2 diabetes, though a person can have insulin resistance and not be considered diabetic, but rather, prediabetic (depending on blood glucose readings).
Extrapolate from this report, however, that the more muscle mass that a type 2 diabetic possesses, the more helpful all that muscle tissue will be to the condition.
Thus, ideal exercises are the big compound lifts, because they allow the most weight moved because several muscle groups at the same time get recruited:
This list is just a start. Someone with type 2 diabetes can find more compound exercises to do, such as the military press and bench dips, which will contribute to gaining lean muscle.
For a very helpful guide to putting on lean muscle, whether you have diabetes or not, are a beginner, intermediate or advanced trainee, check out No-Nonsense Muscle Building Program by Vince DelMonte.
A former marathon runner turned fitness model, DelMonte presents 29-week training programs for building muscle to your desired size, as well as slashing stubborn body fat. This book also includes many sample menus for supportive nutrition.