, Volume 57, Issue 7, pp 1437–1445 | Cite as

‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance

  • Monique E. Francois
  • James C. Baldi
  • Patrick J. Manning
  • Samuel J. E. Lucas
  • John A. Hawley
  • Michael J. A. Williams
  • James D. CotterEmail author



The aim of this study was to investigate whether small doses of intense exercise before each main meal (‘exercise snacks’) would result in better blood glucose control than a single bout of prolonged, continuous, moderate-intensity exercise in individuals with insulin resistance.


Nine individuals completed three exercise interventions in randomised order. Measures were recorded across 3 days with exercise performed on the middle day, as either: (1) traditional continuous exercise (CONT), comprising 30 min moderate-intensity (60% of maximal heart rate [HRmax]) incline walking before dinner; (2) exercise snacking (ES), consisting of 6 × 1 min intense (90% HRmax) incline walking intervals 30 min before each meal; or (3) composite exercise snacking (CES), encompassing 6 × 1 min intervals alternating between walking and resistance-based exercise, 30 min before meals. Meal timing and composition were controlled within participants for exercise interventions.


ES attenuated mean 3 h postprandial glucose concentration following breakfast (by 1.4 ± 1.5 mmol/l, p = 0.02) but not lunch (0.4 ± 1.0 mmol/l, p = 0.22), and was more effective than CONT following dinner (0.7 ± 1.5 mmol/l below CONT; p = 0.04). ES also reduced 24 h mean glucose concentration by 0.7 ± 0.6 mmol/l (p = 0.01) and this reduction persisted for the subsequent 24 h (lower by 0.6 ± 0.4 mmol/l vs CONT, relative to their baselines; p = 0.01). CES was just as effective as ES (p > 0.05 for all glycaemic variables) at improving glycaemic control.


Dosing exercise as brief, intense ‘exercise snacks’ before main meals is a time-efficient and effective approach to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance.


Continuous glucose monitoring High-intensity interval exercise Postprandial glucose Type 2 diabetes 



Cardiovascular disease


Composite exercise snacking


Continuous blood glucose monitoring


Traditional continuous exercise


Exercise snacking protocol


High-intensity interval training


Heart rate


Maximal heart rate


Postprandial glucose


Respiratory exchange ratio


Rating of perceived exertion

\( \dot{V}{\mathrm{O}}_{2 \max } \)

Maximal oxygen consumption



We would like to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of our participants, and thank L. Hughes (School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Otago) for technical assistance.

Duality of interest

The authors declare that there is no duality of interest associated with this manuscript.

Contribution statement

MEF and JDC conceived the study, with guidance and knowledge on design from PJM, JCB, MJAW, SJEL and JAH. MEF performed the data collection with help from JCB and MJAW for cardiovascular screening. MEF and JDC contributed to the data analysis. MEF drafted the manuscript and all other authors contributed critically to revisions. All authors declare that they read and approved the final version of the manuscript before submission. JDC is responsible for the integrity of the work as a whole.


This study was supported by the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences and Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago.

Supplementary material

125_2014_3244_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (142 kb)
ESM Methods (PDF 142 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monique E. Francois
    • 1
  • James C. Baldi
    • 2
  • Patrick J. Manning
    • 2
  • Samuel J. E. Lucas
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • John A. Hawley
    • 5
    • 6
  • Michael J. A. Williams
    • 2
  • James D. Cotter
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise SciencesUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Dunedin School of MedicineUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  3. 3.Department of PhysiologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  4. 4.School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  5. 5.Exercise and Nutrition Research Group, Department of Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Health SciencesAustralian Catholic UniversityFitzroyAustralia
  6. 6.Research Institute for Sport and Exercise SciencesLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

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