An even playing field is all most parents hope for as their children enter organized sports. Most of us don’t expect our child to be the next LeBron James, but we do want our young ones to have a shot at success just like everyone else.
If your child has diabetes, it doesn’t have to hold him or her back from sports. It just requires that parents, medical staff and coaches work together to ensure optimal health of the young athlete. With proper outpatient management, a winning game plan is doable.
“Diabetes is incredibly common,” says orthopaedic specialist Dominic King, DO. “If you have an organized way to coach young athletes, you should have an organized way to treat athletes with diabetes.”
A matter of managing
Control is the operative word, Dr. King says.
“The management of a child athlete with diabetes is very similar to managing any child who is an athlete,” Dr. King says. “Just like you watch all athletes for injuries, you have to watch diabetic athletes for hypo- or hyperglycemia.”
With strict attention to blood glucose concentration, diet and hydration, most sports and activities are fair game for children with diabetes.
“There are no real limitations to activity,” Dr. King says. “In fact, there are some specific benefits in regards to improved blood glucose control and an overall healthy lifestyle.”
There are a few more extreme sporting activities — such as rock climbing, skydiving or scuba diving — that you would probably want your child to avoid if he or she has diabetes.
Dr. King warns against “anything that, if you passed out during the activity, you could be in life-threatening danger.”
Also, make sure that your child’s body has the energy it needs to stay active, Dr. King says. “Just like practice makes perfect in sports, practice also makes perfect when it comes to making sure your child has the necessary sugar levels to perform,” he says.
Developing a game plan
Here are tips that can help keep your child in the game:
Check levels: Doctors recommend that your child not start an activity if his or her blood glucose is below 70 or above 300. Checking levels before, during and after participating in sports should become habit.
One to three hours before exercising: Your child should eat a meal of carbohydrates. Remember to allow enough time for the complex carbohydrates to break down.
Every 45-60 minutes of exercise: Check blood glucose levels during the activity and make sure he or she has a snack.
Day-long events: Encourage your child to eat six small meals that have carbohydrates and proteinthroughout the day. Avoid high sugars and high fat foods. Peas, corn, dried beans and grains are complex carbohydrates that break down slowly and provide glucose control over time.
Insulin: Coaches should be aware of any blood glucose monitoring system and the schedule for the athlete. If an athlete is on insulin, coaches need to know whether it is injected or administered by a pump.
Snacks: A coach should keep snack items readily available during practice and competition. Carbohydrates in the form of starches, sugars and fibers are good snacks during exercise. “A good choice would be dried fruits,” Dr. King says.
Candy and sugars: You should have candy and other sugars, such as orange juice or peanut butter, readily available in case your child has a hypoglycemic event. When snacking, however, have them stick to complex carbohydrates and starches. If your child passes out, do not use hard candy, as this poses a choking risk.
Afterward: “Don’t just go home and let your child go to bed after a long competition,” Dr. King says. “That feeling of being tired could be hypoglycemia for an athlete with diabetes.” Before your child goes to bed, check blood sugar levels and have them eat a meal if he or she needs it. Hypoglycemia can occur between four to 48 hours after exercise, so check levels frequently. “Be sure your child eats balanced meals and snacks after activity,” Dr. King says.
Identification: Your child should wear an identification bracelet or a shoe tag that denotes that they have diabetes.
Information: Good communication between parents and coaches is essential. Be sure to provide all coaches with the list of medications your child is taking and your emergency contact information, including the telephone numbers for your child’s physician and consent for medical treatment.