BACKGROUND: Exercise has a beta cell preserving effect in patients with type 2 diabetes. This benefit of exercise has not been examined in type 1 diabetes. Significant beta cell function is present at the time of diagnosis of type 1 diabetes and therefore studies of beta cell preservation are ideally conducted immediately after diagnosis. Many of the variables required to design and power such a study are currently unknown. The aim of EXTOD is to obtain the information required to design a formal study of exercise and beta cell preservation in newly diagnosed patients with type 1 diabetes. METHODS: Barriers to exercise will initially be assessed in a qualitative study of newly diagnosed patients. Then, sixty newly diagnosed adult type 1 diabetes patients will be randomized to either conventional treatment or exercise, stratified on beta cell function and fitness. The exercise group will be encouraged to increase their level of activity to a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise per week, aiming for 240 minutes per week of exercise for 12 months. Beta cell function will be measured by meal-stimulated C peptide. Primary outcomes are recruitment, adherence to exercise, loss to follow-up, and exercise levels in the non-intervention arm (contamination). The secondary outcome of the study is rate of loss of beta cell function. DISCUSSION: The outcomes of the EXTOD study will help define the barriers, uptake and benefits of exercise in adults newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. This information will enable design of a formal study to assess the effect of exercise on beta cell preservation in newly diagnosed patients with type 1 diabetes. Trial registration: Current controlled trials ISRCTN91388505.