I live in New England and, so far, we’ve had a great fall. The weather has been unusually warm, and the foliage is becoming spectacular with its bright colors. Fall is a good time to get outside and enjoy nature before the cold, snowy weather sets in. Whether you’re a serious hiker, or a hunter, or just like to take long walks in the woods, there are a few considerations to keep in mind if you have diabetes.
First, if you do plan to go for a hike and you take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills (including sulfonylureas, nateglinide [brand name Starlix], and repaglinide [Prandin]), it’s a good idea to talk to a diabetes educator or even your doctor about learning how to adjust your drug dose to avoid or limit hypoglycemia, particularly if hiking is a regular part of your schedule. Strenuous, all-day activity can cause your blood glucose level to plummet, and you certainly don’t want to spend your day trying to get your glucose levels back up. It’s essential to take your diabetes supplies with you, such as your insulin and syringes (or insulin pen or pump supplies), your blood glucose meter and test strips (be prepared to check your blood glucose levels more than you usually do), and any foot-care needs (Band-Aids, ointment, etc.). In addition, make sure your hiking boots, hunting boots, or even ski boots fit you correctly and that you wear appropriate socks that wick away moisture and won’t lead to blisters. (See Diabetes Self-Management’s “Foot Care” articles for more guidance in these areas.)
Second, carry identification with you that states you have diabetes, and if you’ll be going it alone, let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
Third, stock up on the right kind of snacks. Good snack choices include energy bars: CLIF Bars, LUNA Bars, and PowerBars are just a few, but there are many more. Granola bars and breakfast bars work well, too. Whatever you choose, make sure that your bar of choice contains at least 15 grams of carbohydrate. Most of them do, but there are some bars that are mostly protein. You need carbohydrate when you’re active.
What are some other good snacks? Peanut butter and crackers are always a favorite. If you don’t like the packaged kind that you can buy in the store, make your own using your favorite peanut butter (or other nut butter) and whole-grain crackers.
Another good option is to either buy or mix up your own “gorp.” Gorp, otherwise known as trail mix, is a favorite of my husband’s (who has Type 1 diabetes and hikes whenever he can). Trail mix is typically a combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, granola, and chocolate (chocolate chips or M&M’s, for example). Granted, this can be a high-calorie, high-fat snack. However, this isn’t intended to be your everyday kind of snack; you need the additional fuel if you plan to be active all day. (The combination of carbohydrate and fat in trail mix can give you energy and sustain that energy level). The benefit of buying trail mix in the store is that it usually comes with a nutrition label; you can then figure out how much carbohydrate you’ll get in a serving size.
A few companies make energy gels (CLIF Shot, GU) which are carbohydrate-based gels. These typically have about 25 grams of carbohydrate per gel packet so, again, count your carbs accordingly if you use them.
You may have some other favorite snacks for when you’re active; if so, feel free to share them.
Finally, stay hydrated. Water is generally the best choice unless you’re doing heavy-duty hiking or skiing. Otherwise, energy drinks such as Gatorade or POWERade generally contain about 50–60 calories and 14–17 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces. Lower-calorie options are also available. Find out from your dietitian or diabetes educator how much carbohydrate and fluid you’ll need (and how often) during the day.
Plan ahead, be prepared, and go out and enjoy the great outdoors!