Regular exercise is one of the best ways to promote health and manage chronic illnesses. The relationship between exercise and glucose metabolism, specifically, is important for everyone to know about.
Athletes benefit from knowing how carbohydrates are used by the muscles to generate energy and under what circumstances. Non-athletes and those with type 2 diabetes benefit from learning how exercise can regulate their blood sugar and improve their quality of life.
Skeletal Muscle and Athletes
Skeletal muscle is one of the primary consumers of carbohydrates (as glucose) to generate energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to fuel movement. This is especially true for higher intensity exercise, when skeletal muscle seems to favor sugar to generate quick energy as opposed to fat.
Carbohydrate depletion is associated with fatigue and reduced performance in athletes. It is important for athletes to consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates to avoid fatigue and poor performance.
Many endurance athletes, like long distance runners, even do carbohydrate loading by eating many carbohydrate-rich food days before a big event to increase their muscle glycogen stores. Glycogen is the form carbohydrates take when they are stored in the body, primarily in the muscle and liver.
Non-Athletes and Blood Sugar
Athletes are not the only ones who should care about the effects of exercise on glucose metabolism in skeletal muscle. Regular people, including those who are overweight, obese, and/or suffer from type 2 diabetes, should pay attention to sugar metabolism.
During exercise, muscle takes sugar from the blood as well as from its own glycogen stores to generate energy. This regulates blood sugar levels and helps lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Mul et al., 2015).
Exercise in general comes with health benefits including cardiovascular fitness, improved mental health, better balance, weight management, and a reduced risk for chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer.
Type 2 Diabetes
Exercise is known to improve insulin sensitivity. This is significant for individuals with type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disease in which insulin resistance hinders the body cells’ ability to take up glucose and use it for energy.
Improved sensitivity to insulin from exercise leads to improved uptake of blood sugar by skeletal muscle and improved glucose homeostasis (Mul et al., 2015).
It is important to mention that intense bouts of exercise may lead to a temporary rise in blood sugar as stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline trigger the release of more sugar into the blood from liver glycogen stores (Stanford Hospital, 2014).
Managing one’s type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise greatly reduces a person’s dependence on medications and risk of developing complications from consistently high blood sugar levels like kidney disease and neuropathy.
Take Home Point
Exercise is an important part of health for everyone. Knowledge of the relationship between exercise and glucose metabolism benefits athletes as well as sedentary individuals and those suffering from type 2 diabetes.
When worried about which exercise is best for reaching specific athletic or therapeutic goals, seek the help of trusted professionals to make up for the knowledge deficit and lower risk of injury or self-harm.
At Santa Cruz CORE Fitness + Rehab, we have personal trainers with years of experience in the practice as well as other wellness providers like massage therapists and chiropractors to help guide you in your fitness journey.
- Mul, J. D., Stanford, K. I., Hirshman, M. F., & Goodyear, L. J. (2015). Exercise and Regulation of Carbohydrate Metabolism. Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science Molecular and Cellular Regulation of Adaptation to Exercise, 17-37. doi:10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.07.020
- Stanford Hospital. (2014, November 17). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FHye3nEUWA
- Hargreaves, M., & Spriet, L. L. (2020). Skeletal muscle energy metabolism during exercise. Nature Metabolism,2(9), 817-828. doi:10.1038/s42255-020-0251-4