Working out, training and nutrition during Ramadan
By Fahad Maniar
Ramadan is a month observed by Muslims around the world which involves fasting during daylight hours. This includes abstaining from all food and water. In Europe, at this time of the year, Ramadan sees only a small window of opportunity to eat and anyone who is keen on exercising and fitness will usually start to panic around this time as the thought of a month off training often fills one with thoughts of decrease in performance or lean muscle mass but it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re smart about your food intake and even your exercise during the holy month.
The concept of fasted training is anything but new and with the rise in popularity of diet protocols like intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet, fasting has been seen as a good thing for fat loss if done correctly.
Recently, I have been researching the topic for my clients, many of whom are Muslim and will be observing fasting during Ramadan as a result, I have found the following points which are known benefits of fasting from the point of view of body composition and even body weight.
The benefits of fasting for body composition.
Of course, the fasting during Ramadan is done for spiritual purposes however, as stated, fasting has become a popular protocol for fat loss, especially stubborn fat loss. Below are just some of the benefits fasting can create which help burn fat:
Reduced insulin levels during the day and increased activity of Catecholamine levels make stubborn fat slightly less stubborn.
An increase in growth hormone release resulting in better fat burning and even muscle synthesis as well as an increase in metabolic rate when the fast is broken due to the increase in catecholomines (dopamine and adrenaline)
Fasting can also reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body which can help combat ill health and disease whilst helping to fight free radical release. It has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health and reduce blood pressure levels too whilst reducing insulin resistance which can help
But wait, did I just say an increase in metabolic rate? It is interesting to see that the mass opinions of leading fitness minds debunking the myth that your metabolism slows down during fasting which is often a worry for those who are concerned about body composition.
I researched medical papers on metabolic rate and meal frequency a while back on an article I wrote about the importance of meal frequency which concluded the fact that it doesn’t matter if you eat your calories in one sitting or over 6, the net effect on your metabolic rate is minor and providing you don’t create too much of a caloric deficit, your metabolism should remain intact.
What this means is that you won’t slow down your metabolism during the day and you won’t store more fat when you eat at night. In fact, you’ll only effect your metabolism if you lose lean muscle mass by dropping your calories too low and not training whilst eating poorly. The rest of this guide will explain how you will counter that!
As a bonus, fasting raises your insulin sensitivity and can mean you’re less like to store fat as a result, in fact, providing you create an adequate caloric deficit without cutting back too drastically on calories, you’ll burn fat too.
Muscle preservation is a consideration during Ramadan. Whilst muscle atrophy can occur (atrophy being the term to describe muscle loss) they key to minimise muscle loss is to continue with strength training and eating your protein when you can.
Training and exercise during Ramadan.
When I was competitively fighting and observing the fasting siritiual, I would still train during fasting but noticed my worst complaint was that of extreme cramping due to dehydration. The thing I personally took home from that was to ensure I didn’t perform high impact work which caused excessive perspiration or any exercises that were high impact.
Training can be done in a fasted state or during the times where food is available but in Europe, especially in the UK, with a 4 hour window to eat, I would strongly advise training to be done 1 hour prior to Iftar with a 45 minute resistance training or strength session performed 2-3 times a week. You probably won’t be able to lift what you usually lift mind you but if you can manage 6—80% of your usual 1 rep max, that would be a good zone to work in. Strength training protocols of 5 reps of 5 sets of lifts for each body part are in my opinion ideal as they afford rest and recovery time (2-3 minutes between sets)
On days you don’t perform strength training, a pre iftar walk would be ideal Cardio keeping it under 45 minutes.
Training an hour or so before breaking your fast will allow you to replenish your body’s fuel stores and provide it with the adequate nutrients it needs as after working out and post fasting, your body will absorb nutrients like a dry sponge.
Remember, when partaking in any physical activity, to dress cool and avoid unnecessary dehydration. Even athletes who train such as football players or track athletes who also fast during Ramadan try to observe that rule. (And – If you are an athlete, Ramadan is an excellent time to work on your skill – Non athletes can also work on skill based training too)
The key is to ensure that when you can eat, Iftar to Sehri, you ensure you’re eating adequately and eat nutritious dense foods.
My advice would be as follows:
Upon breaking your fast – Supplement with 5g of Glutamine Peptides, BCAA complex and a green smoothie made with a scoop or two of protein (You can make your green smoothies up using spinach, kale and a combination of any other leafy greens combined with the whey protein, almond milk and some good fats)
Eat a nutritious meal along with it or after it.
Half way through this period, supplement with another 5g of Glutamine (Glutamine is an amino acid that is renowned for its muscle sparing effect). Eat some more food too to keep your calories and macros as close to your target as possible.
For your last meal, Sehri, I would have another green smoothie, only this time with added good fats such as coconut oil, BCAA supplement and another 5g of glutamine.
The trick is to ensure you’re getting your water in too and getting 3-4 litres of water in a 4 hour window may be uncomfortable but it is essential to rehydrate adequately.
It is also important to consider getting adequate sleep so you don’t suffer from sleep deprivation. Sleep is a crucial ingredient to health and body composition so if you can get your 8 hours in posts Sehri, it would be strongly advised to do so. You can also have naps during the day providing your lifestyle affords that luxury (Many people will still have to work so napping during the day or even getting 8 hours of sleep post Sehri may be difficult)
During Ramadan, we will be having a special Ramadan Training session for members who wish to train before Iftar. If you’d like more information, please get in touch.