One of the greatest finds in my diabetic life was really not a diabetic product at all. One of the main problems with having diabetes is needing to keep the amount of sugar in your blood within a very narrow window. There are a hundred factors you have to balance and calculate. And most of the time, you’re really just estimating. There is no number for how hard you pushed on your last swim or the quality of sleep last night. No stress number or hormone level number. The numbers we do have are not much better either. My blood glucose meter is allowed to be off by at least 20%. TWENTY PERCENT! So let’s do some math. Your meter says 400. And with a few expletive flying out of your math, you start to calculate. 400 equals 6 units of insulin to drive that sugar out of your blood and into the muscle. And so you coast back to your window of 80-120. But what if really you were 320, 20% lower than your meter said. So now you are sailing 80 points lower than you expected. Let’s see…80-80 =0. That 20% puts you at zero sugar in your blood. Absolutely none. And I’m sure you can figure out what zero sugar would do to a person. Just like zero gas in your car, you aren’t going anywhere for a long time, or really ever again.
With estimating being so unsure, you need to have a Plan B. Plan B usually consists of some easy to eat, easy to carry, easy to digest sugar source. When I was first diagnosed, I followed my doctors
recommendation of carrying Life Savers around (fitting name). Problem is when you are low and somewhat confused, it is really hard to eat a whole pack of Life Savers in under 30 seconds, especially the mint ones. I moved onto Skittles, but those are really good. They didn’t last long even when I wasn’t low. The 'I’ll have just one…' syndrome.
Chocolate milk and Gatorade are my go to sugars on land when I’m mopping the floors and I mop a little too hard (yes, even serious mopping will drive your blood sugars too low).
The conventional wisdom is that Diabetics shouldn’t do anything where they could get hurt if the get low or if they can’t get to a sugar source quickly. That presents quite a problem when I surf, snorkel or swim in the ocean. Sometimes I can be a quarter mile out to sea while exercising vigorously. I tried candy in a Ziploc, which lasted about 4 seconds. Salty Skittles are just not good. I tried to stash sugars buried in the sand, but they were too far away. I even toyed with the idea of having some waterproof container glassed into my board so I could stash sugars in there. Maybe a little too much work for that one.
My quest was over when I discovered Power Gel. For those of you who are not endurance athletes, Power Gels are made by Power Bar. They are a honey-like gel that contains quick acting carbohydrates and electrolytes. And these things are amazing. They are the perfect dose (odd that I refer to food as doses, one of the side effects of having Diabetes, I guess.) There is no chewing involved so it takes about 3 seconds to get one down. They are designed for athletes so they get from the pack, to your stomach and into your blood stream quickly through some chemical transaction that I memorized in college but have since forgotten in favor of every word of the new Hannah Montana Album (not my music choice, I have a six year old daughter). They come in these compact cases that fit perfectly into the leg of my wetsuit so I have them ready to go. And I can’t tell you how amazing these things taste after being in the salt water. After the saltiness of the water they taste like vanilla frosting straight form the can. Vanilla is my favorite, followed by the Strawberry Banana.
I had one Strawberry Gel from another company that tasted like a warm, somewhat turned Strawberry Jelly that you kid forgot out on the counter in the warm sun all day while you were at school. And the worst part is you usually squeeze at least half of the pack into your mouth all at once, so you have this mouth full of jelly that you really can’t get yourself to swallow, but you can’t find a way to get it all out of your mouth (I’ve been told spitting isn’t ladylike and anyways how do you get that much gel out in one spit) and you really don’t want to waste the calories on a good, long run. So you turn your mind off and tell your mouth to swallow. And then comes the real quandary; do you want those extra calories enough to knowingly take another hit, or risk not being able to go as hard as you wanted because you didn’t bring enough fuel. Let’s just say that is the last time I go out searching for one of the new brands just to see if they’re any better. Short answer, No.
One of the great things Power Gel has allowed me to do is set into motion plans to sail single-handed in the Florida Keys next summer. Solo sailing is one of the big No-No’s in the diabetic world. It’s up there with flying solo and scuba diving. You get low, you crash. Or if you’re under water you can’t really stop to test your blood sugars and get sugar (well unless you don’t mind an underwater Power Gel, which, personally, I think sounds pretty good and doable.) Since I can stash these tiny perfect sugars everywhere, I don’t have to worry about setting a self steering mechanism and going below to get some sugar. What happens if I have to do that in some bad weather when I can’t go from the tiller? When Johnny alerts me that I’m going low, (Johnny is my Continuous Glucose Monitor who checks my sugars every 5 minutes and reports them to me) I now grab the Power Gel in my shorts and down it. Crisis averted