A Coach’s Guide to Type 1 Diabetes


Editor’s Note: This content is a part of Beyond Type 1’s guidebook, which includes guides for everyone who has a type 1 in their life. Check out the rest of our customized guides for the different people in your life here!

What is Type 1?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects a person’s pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, a hormone people need to get energy from food. Our pancreas, for reasons that have not been identified, does not produce any insulin. As a result, we need to inject or continually infuse insulin through a pump and carefully balance our insulin doses with eating and daily activities. We must also regularly monitor our blood-sugar levels. Type 1 is a non-stop and 24/7 balancing act that we must maneuver every day. There is no way to prevent type 1 and there is no cure (currently!).

How do you manage it?

We get by with a little help from our friends! These include our blood glucose meter, insulin, needles and monitors. The glucose meter is a device that measures blood sugar. We use a device that pricks our finger and we put the blood sample onto a test strip. From there, the test strip is read by the meter and gives us a number on the meter screen.

We can get insulin into our bodies through multiple daily injections or an insulin pump.

Injections are delivered to our bodies through insulin pens and needles. There are two types of insulin that we use:

  1. Fast-acting insulin gives our bodies insulin right away and is taken with meals or to correct a high blood sugar. Fast-acting insulin is used multiple times a day, depending on when you eat.
  2. The other is long-acting insulin, which is given once a day. Long-acting insulin is a slow release insulin that is given to your body in a span of 24 hours when needed.

An insulin pump is a device that is connected to the body, either through a tube or wirelessly. With the control of a device, you are constantly getting insulin through the pump. During meals, we can choose how much insulin to give, and the device is already in our skin and ready to deliver the amount needed.

Type 1 and Exercise

Managing type 1 and exercise is a constant balancing act. When you add exercise into the equation of blood sugar and insulin, you have to take into consideration a few things. First off, the type of activity can affect blood sugar levels in different ways. Low intensity cardio, such as running, jogging, walking, biking, or swimming, can lower blood sugar levels. High intensity interval training can increase your blood sugar levels due to the amount of adrenaline and energy that your body is using. Nonetheless, each person’s body reacts differently. The only way to identify how your body will react to different exercises is to constantly be testing your blood sugar before, during and after physical activity to track trends and changes.

A fantastic resource for you is the Diabetic Athlete’s Handbook: Your Guide to Peak Performance by Sheri R. Colberg, Ph.D. This book has tons of sports, pump adjustments and mentions what carbohydrates are needed for different activities. A solid read of this book can give you a foundation to understanding the basics of diabetes management in different types of activity.

General Treatment

The day in the life of someone with type 1 involves frequent blood sugar testing and insulin treatment. Insulin treatment is not a cure for type 1; insulin is used to control our blood sugar. High or low blood-sugar levels can be common, even on a daily basis. The following indicators of low and blood sugar are general guidelines. It depends on the athlete and what is a typical range for him or her.

  • High blood sugar (above 180mg/dL / 10mmol/L) 
  • Low blood sugar ( < 70mg/dL / 4mmol/L ) 
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) symptoms—
  • Unquenchable thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
High blood sugar treatment
Depending on the age of your athlete, he or she will have training in a medical protocol to follow or specific instructions for care. Insulin or sometimes physical activity is used to lower blood sugar levels. Make sure to review the medical plan that the athlete has in place and know who is responsible for insulin administration.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) symptoms—
  • anxious feeling
  • behavior change similar to being drunk
  • blurred vision
  • cold sweats
  • confusion
  • cool pale skin
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • drowsiness
  • excessive hunger
  • fast heartbeat
  • headache
  • nausea
  • nervousness
  • nightmares
  • restless sleep
  • shakiness
  • slurred speech
  • unusual tiredness or weakness

Low blood sugar treatment—

Treat with sugar immediately (glucose tabs, fruits, fruit candy, Gatorade, or juice)

What do you do in case of emergency?

“Having a low” or experiencing severe hypoglycemia is dangerous and action must be taken immediately.

What to Keep in Mind

The unpredictability of type 1 could affect your athlete’s performance on and off the field. Without calling your athlete out of a group, have a conversation about how they are going to control their blood sugar levels and keep track of how they are feeling beforehand. Allow them to take water breaks and quick opportunities to test blood sugar levels when needed. Have a solid understanding of the symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia so that  you are aware if you need to intervene.

As a coach, you want to push each member of your team to his or her highest potential. Don’t see type 1 as a roadblock; see type 1 as a challenge that your athlete takes on everyday at practice!


“Low Blood Sugar: Hypoglycemia.” Healthline.

See the rest of our customized guides here.

WRITTEN BY BT1 Editorial Team, POSTED 10/13/16, UPDATED 12/25/22

This piece was authored collaboratively by the Beyond Type 1 Editorial Team.