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An AT’s Role in Treating Athletes with Type 1 Diabetes

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Part of an athletic trainer’s (ATs) job is to be prepared for any possible situation. This not only means being prepared for emergencies, but also for treating athletes with unique medical conditions.

For example, type 1 diabetes is a medical condition that can impact young athletes. This type of diabetes, which was previously known as “juvenile diabetes,” is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have this type.1 People with type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, which is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. One of the many reasons why glucose is important is because it is one of the body’s preferred sources of fuel.2 Without insulin, the body has no means to maintain glucose levels in the bloodstream and cells.

With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live healthy and active lives. For ATs treating athletes with type 1 diabetes, it is important to be aware of how the athlete feels during activity so that you can be prepared for any situation that may arise.

Highs and Lows

It is important to be aware of each athlete’s recommended glucose levels, which should be available in their medical paperwork provided to the school. Prior to any physical activity, ATs should check in with their athletes to see where they are at with their glucose numbers. Although the athlete may have an idea of how their body responds to exercise, it’s still a good idea to make sure glucose numbers are at a healthy and safe level before beginning activity.

If the athlete’s levels are low before exercise, they should try eating a snack with carbohydrates or even glucose tablets to help increase blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates are usually a good option because they have a lot of glucose and are digested quickly. For those that are on an insulin pump, adjusting the settings related to insulin delivery may also help, but should only be done with permission from the athlete’s doctor.

If the athlete’s blood glucose levels are high, the athlete’s urine should be checked for ketones. Ketone is a chemical produced when there is a shortage of insulin in the blood and the body breaks down body fat for energy. If the ketone test results are positive, there may not be enough insulin available to use glucose for energy and the athlete should consult with their doctor and not participate in rigorous activity.1 If the results are negative and the athlete is feeling good, they may be okay to exercise. That said, it is important to continue to closely monitor blood glucose levels for any changes.

Tips for ATs Treating Athletes with Type 1 Diabetes

  • Have the athlete and parents provide snacks or drinks in case they need it before or after practice.
  • Always ask parents if they have an extra Glucose Test Meter and Glucagon emergency kit in case of an emergency situation. The emergency kit should only be used if symptoms of severe low blood sugar are present.
  • If the athlete wears a Constant Glucose Monitor, ask for permission from the parents to download the bluetooth app and join the network for alerts incase the athlete hits low or dangerous numbers and are located at a different gym or field.

      Maintaining Glucose Levels

      It is important to note that some athletes will experience a drop in glucose levels during or after activity. By close monitoring, the AT and athlete should be able to identify what works best with the type of activity being performed so that levels can be maintained. Consistent monitoring of blood glucose levels, along with healthy eating and exercising, can help prevent extreme lows or highs. Athletes should always consult with their doctor before starting a sport and ask for advice to build a healthy diet to maintain proper blood glucose levels.

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      The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

      1. “American Diabetes Association.” American Diabetes Association,
      2. “What Is Glucose and What Does It Do?” Healthline, Healthline Media,

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