It is that time of year again and Ramadan is back upon us. This is a holy month for Muslims where we fast for 30 days from sunrise (suhoor) to sunset (iftar.)
Some of you may be wondering what I mean by fasting. Well, fasting during Ramadan basically means nil-by-mouth. That means no food, no water, no chewing gum, no nothing, until you break fast in the evening. No, not even water! There are other things involved and more things to abstain from, but for the purpose of this blog I’m going to focus on food, drink and training.
When Ramadan falls in the summer months, as it has for the last few years, it is especially hard because the days are longer and the weather is warmer. The window to eat and sleep is significantly smaller than in the winter, so training has its challenges, but it’s not impossible. I won’t lie, things are even more challenging since the arrival of my little boy, but these things are here to test us!
As a trainer, my fitness is not just important to me, it is vital. Therefore my world cannot stop when Ramadan begins. Like the many Muslim personal trainers, fitness enthusiasts and sports people around the world, I continue to train myself and I continue to train other people while I’m fasting.
It is incredibly hard, but a little positive mental attitude goes a long way. In my experience, much of the battle is mental, but training smart and eating right helps too. I don’t really talk about it that much because I prefer to keep my head down and get on with it, but each year I receive more and more questions from my fellow brother and sisters asking how best to train and what to eat etc, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you here. Hopefully they will be useful to those of you out there who are also fasting during this blessed month.
TRAINING IN RAMADAN
The first thing to say is this is not one size fits all so I can’t tell you a definitive “best way to train.” We all respond to fasting in different ways, we all have different family set ups and demands upon us, and the same goes for work outside of the home.
You have to listen to your body and do what feels right for you as we all respond differently to fasting. For example, I tend to strength train in the day but drop the cardio and save it for after iftar if I want to go for a run etc, BUT I’ve been doing that for years and my body responds well to it. It’s not something I recommend in general to most people, but it works for me.
One key thing I would stress, is Ramadan isn’t the time to start training if you haven’t exercised before. Your health is the priority and you must ensure any training you do is done safely.
•If you’re trying to maintain muscle mass, I’d personally try to limit cardio to twice a week and do after iftar rather than before
•Largely, I’d recommend people who wish to train before iftar try training at a lower intensity or try something like a brisk walk
•If you want to continue with higher intensity workouts, try breaking your fast on something light like coconut water and dates beforehand
•Heavy weight training is usually best saved for before suhoor so you can refuel adequately within the “golden hour”
•Be realistic. You may well lose some mass during Ramadan because it’s hard to train so late at night. This is ok! If you maintain some sort of training and consistency, you’re on the right path so don’t panic. Focus on your internal health rather than the aesthetics.
EATING DURING RAMADAN
I don’t make any massive changes to my diet during Ramadan. One thing I try to avoid is added or refined sugars because they play havoc with my energy levels which is the last thing you want when fasting. For that reason I tend to put my cheat days on hold as much as my willpower permits!
You’re far better to get your natural sugars from fruit so that there is nutritional value in what you’re feeding your body. I also avoid salty and fried food because they’re dehydrating and make the next day a real struggle, especially if you’re training or losing fluids through sweat in warmer weather.
More nutrition tips:
•Don’t guzzle down your water. Aim for about 2.5litres but rehydrate slowly and sensibly until you begin your fast again so your body can absorb it properly. And if you train after breaking fast, be sure to sip water during your training and after
•Don’t feast. Don’t overeat to try and compensate for lost calories in the day. Take your time and don’t eat more than what you would in a normal day outside of Ramadan
•Avoid caffeine as it’s a diuretic which will stimulate water loss. Keep that water in! It’s too late now but next year try cutting down your caffeine intake a few weeks before Ramadan in preparation
•Dates are recommended because they’re packed with potassium which helps your muscles and nerves function, and they keep you regular which can be an issue in the first few days of fasting. But they’re also high in sugar so go easy on them
•Eat a rainbow – colourful foods tend to be more nutritious than beige as a simple rule to follow
•Opt for complex, fibrous, slow release carbohydrates with meals such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, beans, lentils or sweet potatoes because it takes longer to break them down. This means they provide energy for longer and stabilise your blood sugar rather than sending it soaring.
RAMADAN DURING LOCKDOWN
This is the first time in my life that I’ve faced a Ramadan in lockdown and I’m sure the same goes for all of you. On the one hand, it’s great because it removes all the distractions and allows us to really focus on what is ultimately at the heart of Ramadan, and that is our faith and practice. But, on the other hand, being at home is a massive test of willpower because there’s less distraction to help you through the feelings of hunger, thirst and lethargy.
We no longer have the option of hitting a 24 hour gym after we have broken fast and any training we do will need to be within the confines of our home. But we have our families together so I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to keep fit together. This year, I’m going to do some Instagram Lives and a special Ramadan IGTV series on my account @faisalpmafitness with short 10 minute workouts you can all do together before Iftar.
They won’t be anything too strenuous, but I want to keep you all moving and motivated. If you’d rather do them after Iftar, please do, or at any time of the day that works best for you and your body.
FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM
In my experience, I find men tend to worry about losing size during Ramadan, while women worry about putting on weight. My best and most honest advice is don’t stress! The holy month isn’t for you to worry about your physical appearance, your mind should be occupied with far more important things.
If you maintain an exercise routine of some description then, even if you reduce the intensity, you will largely stay on track. Yes, you may lose a tiny bit of muscle mass, but you will remain healthy on the inside and that’s what matters most. You won’t lose it all overnight if you stay relatively consistent and eat well. Trust me!
Remember, Ramadan is NOT a diet. It’s not a time to try and lose weight and it’s not the best time to kick start a brand new exercise regime. Keep it steady, keep it safe and keep it sensible.
Other than that, I hope you all have a safe and blessed month. Ramadan Kareem!