Beach days are pretty much the greatest thing ever. Sand… Sunscreen… The sound of the waves..
A day at the beach is always a good idea. But spending a day in the sun and sand poses some challenges and extra planning for those with diabetes.
There are basically 2 options for diabetes management on beach days: insulin pump or injections.
Let me go through some tips and ideas for both, as well as some basic tips for visiting the beach with diabetes.
A lot of people with diabetes manage it with an insulin pump, myself included. If you are lucky enough to have an Omnipod, you already have a swimming, surfing, beach-proof method for managing your diabetes. (If you haven’t heard of it, here’s the Omnipod) For other pumps, you have to plan a little differently.
- Water and pump sites don’t seem to be friends. Make sure you tape your site down and bringing extra site (or a few) in case it falls out. Waterproof band-aids or waterproof sports tape tends to work the best.
- Don’t let your insulin pump fry in the sun. When you take it off to get in the water, make sure it is in a cool place. Best case scenario, you have a cooler with food in it that you can place the insulin pump on top (don’t let it get down in the ice or water—that would defeat the whole purpose!) If you don’t have a cooler, make sure to place the pump in the shade. And keep in mind that the insulin could go bad if it gets too hot, so if you have some unexplained high blood sugars that night or next day, change out your insulin.
- Plug in periodically! Your pump gives you your basal insulin—the oh-so important drip of insulin you need to stay alive. If you have the pump off all day and have no insulin in your system, even if you are active, you could have high blood sugars or go into DKA. So when you’re taking a break from the waves, plug in to get some basal action.
- Keep your pump safe. A lot of beach activities involve setting up your stuff, then everyone going out into the water. It’s always a bummer if things get stolen, but if your pump gets stolen, that’s kind of a big deal. Put your pump somewhere where it is locked away, like in the car if the car isn’t going to get too hot, or make sure someone is staying with your stuff.
- I also recommend bringing insulin and a few syringes in case your site rips out (and in case your extra sites rip out too) or your pump fails. It would be a major bummer to be in the middle of a perfect day at the beach and all of a sudden have no insulin and no back-up plan.
Shots, Shots, Shots!
If I don’t have the option of using an Omnipod, I opt for switching to shots for a day (or multiple days) at the beach so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of an insulin pump on the beach. I love going back on shots during beach trips because you don’t have to worry about plugging in, leaving your pump on the beach, or figuring out where to put it when you go kayaking.
- Keep your insulin cool. If you have a cooler, great. If not, I recommend a Frio insulin case. This bad boy was designed to keep insulin the right temperature. It has little absorbent beads in it and works by evaporative cooling, so you can bring it along anywhere. They come in two sizes, a Large Frio for trips without constant fridge access, and a Small Frio for quick trips to the beach.
- With shots and on a pump, be aware of your insulin’s peak time. It’s usually around 1.5 hours after you give it. Exercise will metabolize the insulin faster, so if you eat, give an insulin dose, then go out paddle boarding, watch out for a hypo around the time your insulin peaks.
- Hydration is important for everyone, but especially if you have diabetes. Being out in the sun all day can make your blood sugars to higher, so make sure you are drinking a lot of water.
- Carb counting is always kind-of a pain, but especially when you want to relax on the beach. Make it easy for yourself and pre-pack snacks with known numbers of carbs.
- If you are out in the water doing water sports, you may need less insulin. Surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, you name it-it’s going to take a lot of energy. If you are on a pump, consider a temporary basal (to decrease your insulin for a few hours). If you’re on long-acting, consider taking a lower dose the day you are going to be extremely active. And don’t forget your snacks! If you haven’t lowered your insulin or if you’re going to be hitting it hard in the water, have a carb + protein snack before going out to make sure your sugars stay up.
- If you’re going to be drinking alcohol on the beach, pay special attention to your blood sugars. Drinking with diabetes is a blog post-worthy topic in itself, so I’ll just say a little bit here. Cocktails and beer tend to have carbohydrates, which will make your blood sugars go up. They will also make you pay less attention to your blood sugars, so you might miss a low blood sugar. Make sure you stay aware of your sugars and make sure the friends you are beachin’ it with know you have diabetes—you want them to be able to know if something might be off with your diabetes vs. someone who just drank too much. Additionally, alcohol can make your sugars go lower way later—like 6-8+ hours later, so keep close watch for lows the night after.
- I can’t stress this one enough: Waterproof cases are your friend. If you’re doing water activities like kayaking, wind-surfing where you will be out on the water for an extended period of time, you’re going to want to take your pump, meter and whatever supplies you need. On our first trip out of the country, I dropped my pump, CGM and meter in the water at the beach and it was all completely ruined. Learn from my mistakes. Even if you are just walking along the beach looking for sea-shells, keep your supplies safe.
My Favorite Beach snacks
- Granola bars
- Chips, snack type foods you can pre-package into smaller containers or bags and count the carbs before you go.
- One of my favorite snacks is Happy Belly Trail Mix. I GO CRAZY for this stuff! I love the sweet and spicy kind!
- Dried fruit like mango is one of my go-to snacks. It’s so easy to just eat the mango out of the bag, but dried fruit has a deceptively large amount of carbs, so measure ahead of time to get accurate carb counts. If that’s too much work (which, I’ll admit, I don’t always have the time or energy to do this), at least weigh/measure out a portion at home before going out to get an idea of the carb count so you are a little closer on your estimating at the beach.
- Fresh fruit
- Sandwiches! Since you have to make sandwiches ahead of time anyways, you can count the carbs when you make them
- Juice boxes, fruit snacks for low blood sugars
Beach Day Diabetes Checklist:
- Insulin pump extra sites
- Waterproof tape
- Test strips
- Alcohol wipes
- Waterproof box or bag
- Low blood sugar snacks: Juice, fruit snacks, tabs
For a printable Beach Day Checklist, click here: Beach Day Checklist
Thanks for reading! If you have any extra tips or ideas for dealing with diabetes at the beach, let me know.