Basic Diabetes Care for Soccer Players

If you’re an athlete, you know that medical conditions can change the course of your career. Whether an amateur player or a professional, an injury or sickness may sideline you for the game or the season. Most athletes’ ailments can be managed with medical care and a treatment plan. Chronic diseases like diabetes are no different. Proper diabetes care for soccer players allows athletes to take care of themselves and return to the sport they love.

Diabetes mellitus is a disease an athlete can be born with or acquire later in life, in which the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin or the body rejects the insulin made. Insulin is the key to b processing sugar that the body’s cells need to survive. When a person has too little sugar in their blood, they are considered hypoglycemic; too much sugar in the blood makes a diabetic hyperglycemic. 

Either condition can wreak havoc on a person’s behaviors, physical capacities, and overall health, including cognitive abilities and organ damage, but diabetes management can aid in the prevention of complications. Diabetes care for athletes involves regular exercise, weight loss if necessary, and a nutrient-rich, low-carbohydrate meal plan.

Although diabetes is incurable, it shouldn’t prevent anyone from playing soccer.

Diabetes and Soccer Players

There are numerous professional soccer players with diabetes. Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez was only twelve years old when he was told that his days of playing soccer were over after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2002. On the Monday after his initial diagnosis, Fernandez returned to the hospital, where another doctor saw him. This time, he received good news. Dr. Ramirez told him that sport was important to Fernandez and that he had to continue playing. Fernandez did just that, and on June 15, 2018, he became the first player with diabetes to score in a World Cup.

While this is an astonishing accolade, Fernandez is not the only professional soccer player with diabetes. Despite their condition, Tottenham star Gary Mabbutt and Danny McGrain, who played for Celtic, were both formidable players.

Other professional diabetic players include

  • Andy Penman
  • Niall Canavan
  • Ben Coker
  • Jordan Morris
  • Chris Bright
  • Andrea Pereira
  • Scott Allan
  • Andy Rose
  • Sergi Samper
  • Borja Mayoral Getafe
  • Magnus Wolff Eikem
  • Par Zetterberg
  • Joao Valido

These professional athletes were able to have careers by learning proper diabetes care for soccer players. By following medical advice and these helpful tips, diabetic soccer players can enjoy an active and fulfilling career.

Diabetes Care Tips for Soccer Players

The goal of any person with diabetes is to maintain stable and healthy blood glucose levels. To do this, the diabetic athlete needs a diabetes care plan that includes ways to participate in practices and matches safely. If you are an athlete with diabetes, talk to your doctor about these tips and other methods to ensure you stay healthy enough to play and keep diabetes from putting you on the sidelines.

Tip 1: Get a Pre-Play Physical

Before beginning any regular physical activity or joining team sports, the most essential thing diabetic patients can do is consult with their doctors and team physicians to get an initial physical evaluation. A pre-game workup ensures the player is healthy enough to handle the challenges of high-intensity competitive sports. It is vital to have control of blood glucose levels, lipid levels, and blood pressure to ensure long-term wellness and minimize the damaging effects of diabetes.

After an initial evaluation, It is also essential to have routine check-ups on the following diabetic areas of concern:

  • Retinopathy (eyes): yearly
  • Nephropathy (kidneys): yearly
  • Neuropathy (nerves): yearly
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart): a graded exercise stress dependent on risk factors

Niall Canavan, defender for Barrow, understands the value of testing and learning diabetes care for soccer players. “Regular testing and keeping track of any irregularities throughout the first year helped build my confidence and understanding of the way my body reacted to different situations. A match-day atmosphere or the elation of a last-minute winner could swing my sugars one way or the other. I learned how to adjust my insulin dosage to proactively combat this. Now two years on, I am still learning how different factors can impact my sugars and how to adapt accordingly.”JDRF UK

Tip 2: Minimize the Risk of Hypoglycemia and Hyperglycemia

High-intensity sports like soccer have been associated with a heightened risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, for diabetics. Soccer players such as Fernandez and Mabbutt learned to decrease their risk by getting to know the symptoms and taking the necessary steps to keep problems at bay. As exercise can increase both the heart rate and levels of adrenaline in the body, players should test their blood glucose levels

While some players find that eating before strenuous activity helps keep their blood glucose levels stable, others have had success with medication changes, like taking less insulin.

Chris Bright, founder of the Diabetes Football Community, made adjustments for upcoming matches based on his insulin sensitivity. “I would look to start preparing the day before a game, which for people that don’t have diabetes it’s unheard of, but I’m literally monitoring everything from the night before.”, discussing diabetes care for soccer players like himself.


Generally, hypoglycemia occurs when blood glucose levels dip below 70 mg/dL, although individuals may experience symptoms of hypoglycemia at higher sugar levels. Some doctors may recommend reducing the amount of insulin used the day before, that athletes play two to three hours after the last fast-acting insulin dose, an increase in carbohydrate intake, or that an insulin pump be removed before contact sports. It is essential to always keep an extra snack on hand in case hypoglycemia does occur.

Healthy snacks and emergency supplies for rapid sugar correction include

  • Fruit and fruit juices
  • Crackers
  • Energy pouches
  • Glucagon, either in a gel or a prefilled pen injector

Be aware that hypoglycemia can be experienced four to forty-eight hours after activity, so vigilance and preparation are key.

“Sport causes your glucose levels to fall over the hours following a game, so after each match, I measure them with a sensor and, depending on my glucose levels, I’ll either eat right there and then, or I’ll wait until my glucose levels go down a bit. My glucose levels can increase quite a bit due to nerves in the game, so I have to keep them under control.” – Defender Andrea Pereira, in a post about how she manages her diabetes for


Hyperglycemia occurs when too much sugar is in the blood, either from a lack of insulin or insulin resistance, creating high blood sugar levels of 250 mg/dL or above. It seems counter-intuitive to be wary of high blood sugar when doing intense aerobic exercise, but it does happen. Physical stress, adrenaline spikes, poorly controlled diabetes, viral or bacterial infections, or short bursts of activity followed by reduced activity can all increase the sugar in a diabetic soccer player’s bloodstream.

Hyperglycemia control and other diabetes care for soccer players may include learning your body’s reaction to exercise and stress, staying well, hydration, reducing carbohydrates, medication, and insulin.

“I stopped taking chocolate bars before games as whenever I was running around the pitch later in games, it caused me to cramp because my blood sugar was going too high. For men, it’s just around having a blood sugar of between 4-6 mmol/l before playing, and I would take insulin without even having sugar. This is to compensate for the adrenaline rush and playing in front of the fans.” Scott Allan is a Hibernian midfielder from Scotland.

Tip 3: Follow a Healthy Diet

While following a healthy lifestyle is recommended for any soccer player, those living with an underlying condition such as diabetes have to make an even greater effort to follow a healthy diet. Many individuals with diabetes also find home-cooked meals are the key to optimal health. While this may sound mundane, there are several ways to ensure that the food prepared at home is nutritious and delicious. Apart from seeking out exciting recipes online, signing up for a suitable food subscription box will result in a selection of recipes, kitchen gadgets, and ingredients delivered right to a player’s doorstep.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends eating the right amount of fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels stable. Doctors often recommend small meals with less than 60 grams of carbohydrates and snacks containing 15-20 grams of carbohydrates. These amounts may change when participating in sports, both before the game and after.

“I have no limitations. There are meals that I have to be a little more careful with, but I eat everything, and I am lucky to have it well controlled.” Nacho Fernadez, Real Madrid.

Jordan Morris, forward for Sounders SF, created the Jordan Morris Foundation to educate and inspire children with diabetes. He offers advice on managing blood sugar levels and how he eats. “Try to get into a routine. I find that when I get into a rhythm of eating at similar times throughout the day and eating similar foods every day with lots of protein and not as many sugary carbohydrates, my blood sugar tends to respond well. I try to stay away from candy and sweets as much as possible. I know that’s tough, but if you really know the food you’re eating and can accurately count your carbs, it will make life a ton easier.”

Tip 4: Foot and Wound Care is of the Utmost Importance

Foot problems are common complications for diabetes patients, particularly for athletes like soccer players who partake in strenuous physical activity wearing shoes that could cause blisters and calluses, as well as regular injuries during play. As a soccer player with diabetes, taking care of your feet and checking them daily is essential. Be on the lookout for any cuts, scratches, and patches of dry or cracked skin that can lead to an infection. Practice good foot hygiene, and don’t walk around barefoot, even at home. It is also essential to make sure your soccer boots are comfortable and free of any rough areas on the inside that can rub up against your skin.

Gary Mabbutt experienced a diabetic complication in his leg after 16 years of playing and coaching professionally. He now focuses on spreading the message of foot care to people with diabetes. “I hope the story of what happened to me can help raise awareness among people with diabetes about the importance of looking after your feet. It really is so important. I would urge anyone with the condition to make sure they’re regularly checking their feet and getting an annual foot check from a healthcare professional.”Diabetes UK.

Many soccer players are living with underlying medical conditions that may impact their performance if they are not controlled. Through careful monitoring and taking certain precautions, however, a diabetes diagnosis does not have to mean the end of a promising soccer career.

Take it from Jack Muldoon, Harrogate Town forward, who said, “There’s absolutely nothing in the way that should prevent you from becoming a professional footballer. I haven’t let diabetes get in my way, so you shouldn’t let it get in yours.”English Football League News.

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