The link between runners and insulin resistance

Have you ever wondered if you were insulin resistant?

We don’t often discuss this as a possibility in the running community, but many times the runner’s lifestyle and diet can lead to mild insulin resistance.  When I struggled with a PCOS-like diagnosis while trying to get pregnant, I learned that my body was likely a bit insulin resistant as well.

So let’s back up a minute.  What are the signs of insulin resistance?

  • feeling tired, hungry or the afternoon “blahs”
  • gaining weight, particularly around the middle
  • hypertension or high cholesterol
  • family history of heart disease or diabetes
  • gestational diabetes

Although I didn’t have most of these symptoms, my body leaned toward insulin resistance.  Post-baby my body again struggled to get back to balance until I addressed it with dietary changes and a better balance of exercise as I’m covering in the runner’s reset.

January reset Strength progressFrom my first Fresh Fix in the spring (left) to December 2015 (right)

My weight didn’t change and I was never “overweight” but my body wanted to hold weight in my belly.

When we eat sugar, refined or processed food, our body requires more insulin to metabolize it and our bodies become less responsive.  Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps to control glucose, or blood sugar.

Normally glucose is carried to individual cells and insulin signals the cells to absorb the glucose and fuel the body.  However, when there is too much insulin released, the body becomes less sensitive to it and blood sugar levels become too high.  This can disrupt metabolism, increase inflammation in the body, and ultimately lead to insulin resistance or early signs of diabetes.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen how common this issue can be among runners, particularly women.

We tend to fuel our bodies with pasta dinners pre-run, bagels post-run, and cupcakes anytime because we ran.  We use gels and gu on long runs and electrolyte drinks. All of these refined sugars and carbohydrates can lead to insulin issues.  Women with insulin issues tend to have strong sugar/carb cravings.


Change the food, change the cravingsThe other bad news? Sometimes we’re eating healthy food (like me) but running is teaching our body to store fat for the next run and keeping the hormones imbalanced.

However, carbohydrates are not the bad guys.  Complex carbohydrates, in the form of vegetables, fruits, some whole grains and legumes can help to slow and reverse the process.

What can you do to address it?

  • Simple dietary changes to ensure that carbohydrates have a balanced role in the overall diet with plenty of fiber and protein can balance insulin and help the body get back on track (which can be through a meat-eating or vegetarian diet)
  • A pharmaceutical grade vitamin, Omega 3s and a probiotic (such as what is included in the Vitalizer) is important to help decrease sugar/carbohydrate cravings and balance hormones.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids through diet are also important (salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil)
  • Reduce stress, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly


If you find your body beginning to exhibit any of the above signs, you may want to tweak your diet to prevent insulin resistance.  If you want a personalized plan, message me about nutrition coaching as this is one of the areas that I will be focusing on this year.


Are you familiar with insulin resistance?

Have you ever struggled with these symptoms?

26 thoughts on “The link between runners and insulin resistance

  1. I love how much sense you make here Laura! It’s definitely something for runners to think about and it’s easily changed in the diet and/or with the supplements you suggest. I love the pictures! Nice six-pack mama 🙂
    Allie recently posted..The Rundown – Back to WorkMy Profile

    • Ha! Not exactly a six pack but it has been interesting to see how my body composition reacted to the changes. Some women seem to maintain muscle very easily even when running (like you!) while others sometimes need to address the issues with how their body uses fuel, so I think it’s an important issue to cover.
      Laura recently posted..The link between runners and insulin resistanceMy Profile

  2. I have to wonder if I suffered with this at one time too. I had so many hormone problems and midsection weight was a big issue for me along with thyroid problems. Now things are much better and I have less cravings for sweets. I also think doing less cardio plays a big role in all this for women.
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted..Egg Cup Lentil Bowl {GF, Low Cal}My Profile

    • Yes, the excess cardio that runners do is tricky for some women’s bodies… they think they need more and more to reach their goals, when less is often more beneficial. More variety of low intensity and high intensity and fewer steady state runs help. However, for those of us that are in love with running, it’s tough to find this balance!
      Laura recently posted..The link between runners and insulin resistanceMy Profile

  3. While this isn’t personally an issue I know that it affects so many, and it completely makes sense that runners are more susceptible for the reasons you mentioned! I know distance running is definitely not always healthy for women’s hormones and it’s one reason I think serious breaks are essential if we want to keep running healthy.
    Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted..Sausage Pizza Egg Muffins {Paleo & Whole30}My Profile

    • Different body types respond to carbs differently. Many runners do great on a 60% or higher carb to protein to fat diet and that is still what is recommended for runners. So I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong!
      Bur for women who have insulin issues, that ratio will not work.
      Laura recently posted..The link between runners and insulin resistanceMy Profile

  4. Laura, I cannot thank you enough for this post! I was diagnosed with lean PCOS 8 years ago. I don’t know if it’s insulin resistant or not – I never showed any of the symptoms of insulin resistance and didn’t have any PCOS symptoms such as weight gain (the diagnosis was made on amenorrhea + low progesterone), but I really appreciate reading a post geared towards runners for managing problems related to PCOS and the possibility of insulin resistance in the future.
    I eat a lot of carbs, but I make sure they’re complex carbs (fruit, veggies, whole grains) and try to minimize my daily sugar and refined flour intake, so it’s good to know that my diet is already in a positive direction for when I someday decided to start a family.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted..5 Tips for Bringing Balance to Your RunningMy Profile

  5. Since becoming a mom my body absolutely stores weight in my belly! It also correlates with me becoming more of a distance runner (I have 36 half marathons under my belt since having my oldest!). I have been really thinking about the Vitalizer pack and taking vitamins more regularly since our call!
    Fancy Nancy recently posted..Monday MotivationMy Profile

  6. Totally fascinated by this and wonder if this is part of what my issue has been as I do have some of the signs that you mentioned. After doing the Whole30, I feel much better and has definitely made a difference to cut out sugar and refined carbs. And you look amazing Laura!

  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about the information you shared in the reset conference call. I have mild hypoglycemia so I tend to eat frequently but I also try to eat balanced meals/snacks and don’t fuel during my runs. I’m trying to pay more attention and trying to let myself get hungry enough!
    Coco recently posted..Holding On To Memories That Don’t Spark JoyMy Profile

  8. You look amazing. This is really interesting. My Dad is a type 2 Diabetic and I worry about preventing that path for myself. I have also been playing around with cutting animal based foods from my diet because generally I seem to feel better. However it is a fine line and at times I still crave meat.
    Jess recently posted..What do you get outta your bad habits?My Profile

  9. Great info here Laura! I definitely am going to add a probiotic into my diet.
    It has been great to take out the added sugar during this reset. I have realized that there are so many things I haven’t missed (honey in my oatmeal, etc)
    Totally agree about the steady state runs – they are addicting and we as woman have to mix things up + strength train. Love this post!
    Natalie recently posted..Running Fast On Tired Legs, Ummm – That’s the Marathon!My Profile

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