The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has begun and even amid a global pandemic, most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims will observe it in some form. This means there’s a good chance you might encounter someone — a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, your child’s teacher — who will be celebrating, fasting, and doing all sorts of other activities that are unique to the holy month.
During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God, extra prayer, increased charity and generosity, and intense study of the Quran.
During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating any food, drinking any liquids, smoking, and engaging in inappropriate activity, from dawn to sunset. Muslims are also supposed to try to curb negative thoughts and emotions like jealousy and anger, and even lesser things like swearing, complaining, and gossiping, during the month.
Being Muslim, the biggest month of the year is the month of Ramadan, in which every Muslim is required to fast. Each year since I have been a trainer, I always think about what the best approach is to take during this month regarding exercise. This year I continued to exercise throughout the month of Ramadan so that I didn’t lose the results I worked so hard for. However, I also made sure to stay faithful to my religion and beliefs. After a successful Ramadan this year, I have found the best approach for working out during Ramadan.
1.) Eat what you can when you can in moderation. You are allowed two meals a day so be very smart with your choices. Aim for calorie-dense food and avoid food that will make you bloat. (ie. overdoing oats and dairy) If you tend to overeat start your meals with protein and fibrous vegetables first; those are the most important. Make sure that you are also getting sufficient amounts of protein. Eat your choice of protein first during each morning and evening meal. Your protein uptake should about 2g/kg body weight daily. From there you can move on to eating your carbohydrates and fats of your choice.
2.) Your only fitness goal should be maintained. I will be the first to admit that you will not make huge gains during this month. The best approach is to maintain what you have. You will find that you lose fat naturally from the fast, provided that your calories are sensible, but this is not the time to try to force extra weight loss. Portions can be very misleading when you are eating a day’s worth of food in a two-meal span.
3.) Stay Hydrated Aim for at least 80-120 ounces a day. Try to spread your water intake during the night before bedtime and wake up a little earlier to finish whatever you have left in your daily total.
4.) Forget the ‘No carbohydrates at night” rule Carbohydrates at night are actually more muscle sparing and fat burning. Do not overload on the carbohydrates, but keep them in your diet. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for your body. If you load up on the carbohydrates, you may be able to store more energy in your muscles to provide you with the stamina you need to make it through the days longer without feeling fatigued.
5.) Train at night, 2-3x a week with a low volume strategy. You should avoid training while still fasted because the risk of dehydration and injury will increase if you take such a big risk. Eat a meal before you exercise but do not overeat. Your meal should be well-balanced between protein, carbohydrates, and fat. You do not want to train immediately after eating so wait at least 30 minutes after you eat to allow some digestion and absorption of the food. When you exercise with weights, I recommend training at 70-75 percent of your maximum weight of the exercise, on your power lifts. I recommend doing 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise. Your strategy should be one day of cardiovascular exercise for 20 minutes maximum with some corrective exercise to fix any dysfunctions or issues you may have. Do not do extra cardio unless you are an endurance athlete. You need to remember that you are fasting for a long time, and you will be burning a lot of muscle during the day. Therefore, use your workouts to maintain your muscle through a resistance program because too much cardio leads to burning more muscle. You should also incorporate two days of strength training exercises. The two strength training days should be split into two full-body days. For larger muscles, I recommend two to three exercises and for the smaller muscles one to two exercises. Your workouts should not take you more than one hour; keep them short simple and sweet.
6.) Intra-workout nutrition. The meal you initially ate before you start working out is not a huge meal, so you will be burning some of it as fuel. During the workout, I recommend drinking a Gatorade or Vitamin Water for electrolytes to help you continue your workout. For me personally, I also included a protein shake for my workout with one scoop of protein, half a banana, and one tablespoon of peanut butter. You can also consider taking Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) during and before your workout. BCAAs help trigger protein synthesis and inhibit the breakdown of muscle cells. They play an important role in building muscle and increasing energy production during exercise. They also help reduce muscle soreness from muscle-damaging exercises.
Admittedly, last year I did miss a few days of fasting because I became sick coming off of a pre-comp diet. However, with the approach I decided to take for Ramadan, I was very successful in maintaining my body and keeping my body fat low. It seems unreal, but people can gain weight from Ramadan due to overeating and lack of activity. I’ve had years of trial and error to finally develop a good approach to Ramadan that still accommodates my passion for fitness!
By Dr. Saqib Habib PT, DPT, Fitness Manager