Insulin sensitivity weirdness

On the walk back from the Jorasses I experienced an unusual change in my insulin sensitivity that I’ve only experienced once before; last winter in Patagonia. Normally during and after exercise my insulin sensitivity goes up, hence I need to inject less insulin, this is the recognised relationship between exercise and insulin sensitivity. But after the Jorasses and after a similar epic in Patagonia my insulin sensitivity actually went down and I had to start injecting a lot more insulin than normal to keep my blood sugar level correct.

The time it happened in Patagonia was a lot more acute than this time. In Patagonia I had attempted to climb the Super Canaletta on Fitz Roy which had resulted in a 35 hour push, getting quite cold etc. Three days later I climbed Exocet on Standhardt in a similar length push also getting quite cold in the process. Both climbs also involve 7+ hours hike to and from base camp before and after. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a physically demanding week. I lost loads of weight.

On the walk out from Exocet I couldn’t understand why my blood sugar kept being high. Normally I have to inject much less straight after such a massive amount of exercise, but I was having to inject more than normal to keep my sugar level down. This continued about a week after. At the time I thought that my insulin had gone off because it had been out of the fridge too long, so I took the 3 hour bus ride to the nearest town to buy some more. At no little expense in Argentina! But the new insulin made no difference. I was having to inject upto 50% extra insulin than normal. Gradually after a couple of weeks things went back to normal.

After the Jorasses the effect was a lot less extreme but it’s got me looking into it. I’ve looked through quite a few papers on the web, but can’t find any research in which this kind of thing has been experienced or explained by anyone. It would be interesting to know if any other diabetics have experienced anything like this?

4 thoughts on “Insulin sensitivity weirdness

  1. Hey Pete. I’m don’t know much about diabetes, but James Thurlow at did a talk last year ay Kendal film fest about his endurance adventures and coping with diabetes – he may be worth contacting if you’re interested. I don’t remember if he experiences the same as you.


    1. Pete
      I have had this happen after big routes as well. From what I can figure, my body goes into a “crisis” type effect. So after many hours of exertion my liver will start turning Glycogen into Glucose at an alarming “stay alive” rate. Your insulin is probably just fine, it’s just a matter of increasing short acting doses. I have used, believe it or not, a doobie, or a few beer to mellow myself out and completely relax, as stress is a trigger for this type of Glycogen release. Has worked for me. If you have a pump, just increase basil… Happy Trails!
      Geoff Thornton-Trump Canmore ab


  2. Hi Pete,

    makes me wonder whether the exercise in addition to the weight loss that you mentioned resulted in increased hepatic glucose output to compensate for increased energy demand whilst decreasing lean mass, a bit of dis-balance there… so a compensatory effect of the liver that your “normal” insulin injections weren’t able to suppress efficiently.

    I’m glad you had an eye on your glucose levels and I hope you’ll inspire many T1D patients to do their adventures!


  3. Just ran across your blog and as a T1 climber and ski mountaineer i’m excited to follow it. I’ve had something similar happen often after days out in the cold northern rockies. I’ve been wondering if it has to do with decreased blood flow to the subcutaneous tissue in the injection site.

    I believe insulin resistance can also be caused by eating too much animal protein due to production of cortisol and blood becoming acidic in a way that a weight loss inducing alpine sufferfest could mirror.


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