In a few days the Ramadan will start. The Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims when they abstain from worldly pleasures during the day. During the Ramadan the Muslims are also denied to eat and drink from sunrise to sunset. This can be a real challenge for people that like to work-out. In this post I will explain how to combine the Ramadan and Fitness.
I already trained for 5 years, and I experienced many Ramadan’s during my life. Therefore, I believe I have the knowledge and experience to help you throughout the Ramadan.
What is Ramadan?
Some of you are not familiar with the Ramadan. The Ramadan is the most important month for 1.6 billion people on the world. The Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days and Muslims spent the day fasting from dawn until sunset. It reminds the Muslims how people live who face hunger on a daily basis. However, this holy month implies more than only fasting. It is a time where Muslims try to become the best version of their self, trying to withhold themselves from sinful behaviour (such as cursing, lying, fighting) and increase their virtuous behaviour (such as helping people and charity).
We want to Maintain most of our muscle during the Ramadan!
First of all, you need to accept that you are not gaining any muscle during the Ramadan. I don’t care what other people say, it is nearly impossible if you are training without steroids. In the Netherlands (where I live) we are fasting from 3 am until 10 pm. Which implies that I fast for 19 hours, so I have an ideal eating window of 5 hours. However, you need to go to work or study the next day and still want to get some sleep. Moreover, your belly is “getting smaller” because of the fasting and therefore you cannot eat much food. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to eat enough nutritious food and eat enough calories. Finally, because you cannot drink during the day, you will lose a lot of fluids. So our goal here is to maintain most of our muscle mass and strength during the Ramadan.
The difference between Intermittent Fasting and Ramadan
Remember that fasting in the Ramadan is different from Intermittent Fasting. People who are Intermittent Fasting (IF) can drink water or are consuming Protein or BCAA’s shakes to ensure continued muscle protein synthesis. Furthermore, in most cases these people restrict their eating for 9-12 hour periods and are not fasting for 19 hours like Muslims do. Therefore, I argue that training as a Muslim during the Ramadan is very different than practising IF. The intentions of many Fitness Guru’s trying to advice people during the Ramadan may be good. Nevertheless, they lack the experience and knowledge of working out themselves in the Ramadan. In the following paragraphs I will help you prepare as good as possible to train in the Ramadan.
When to train during the Ramadan.
How you train depends on which time you want to go to the gym. I tried several time windows during my fitness career. I tried training an hour before Maghreb (sunset) and tried training after Isha (XX) and Fjar (sunrise). I will shortly elaborate on these training methods. In both methods I advise to train 3 times in a week. Your body has less resources to recover from your fitness work-outs while fasting.
Method 1: From my experience I can say that training between Isha (XX) and Fjar (sunrise) gives the best result. If you train at a gym that is open for 24 hours you could opt for this. This enables you to workout with the right nutrition’s and fluids in your body. Moreover, it enables you to eat more, because you are burning food while training. I achieved to maintain most of my muscle and even shed some fat while choosing this method. I was able to train hard and maintain my strength.
Method 2: Method 1 is not a viable option for many of us fitness backpackers that love to workout. Most of us need to go to work or school the next day. Hence training in the night will deprive us from getting enough sleep, which will lead to unproductivity. Because of this we need to train while fasting, which asks a lot from your body and mind. Especially because the Ramadan is in the summer at this moment in Europe, it can be hard to train without water. When choosing for method 2, train 1 hour before Maghreb (sunset). This enables you to get a good post-workout meal directly after training! Another advantage of training just before Maghreb is avoiding the dull time until sunset. Most people find the last hour of the Ramadan the most difficult, when time goes very slowly.
What to Eat and Drink during Ramadan
Considering the short eating window during the Ramadan, it’s not possible to ingest a lot of food (of course this varies per individual). Therefore, it is important to choose the food with the most nutrition’s. One should maximize the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat in the evening and night. Sometimes this can be difficult and such I can recommend to supplement with vitamin pills.
It is important to consume enough protein. I like to break my fast with dates and a protein or BCAA shake. Following the tradition, the dates will support your body with healthy minerals, vitamins and sugar. Protein shakes makes it easy to consume enough proteins; the building blocks of your body. Before going to sleep I like to eat 500 grams of low-fat quark with a handful of nuts. This enables me to get enough slow digesting casein protein and healthy fats. When you wake up you will feel less hungry because of this meal!
In the Ramadan it is a custom to break your fasting with Harira (thick traditional soup) and a lot of sweets. Of course, it is hard to ignore all these delicious foods after fasting for a whole day. But, remember that you will have a fool stomach very quickly, because your body is adapting to the fasting ritual. Try to reduce the amount of cookies you eat. For every cookie you eat, there is nutrition-dense food you cannot eat. Furthermore, the Harira will make you very full and restricts you from eating other foods. Be smart about your food choices, stay strong and deny your cravings!
How to train during the Ramadan
You must acknowledge the fact that you have less energy while fasting. There is less fuel in our body in order to perform a pleasing workout. When we train, our body uses three different energy systems that are located within our muscle fibres. The longer the workout endures the more muscle our body breakdowns in order to perform the exercise. Of course we want to avoid this! Furthermore, a shorter workout consumes less calories than long ones. As a result, we should keep our reps low, increase our rest periods and keep our workout times between 30 minutes and 1 hour. We want to train hard, so we send the signal to our body to preserve as much as muscle as possible.
Working out in the summer has another disadvantage while fasting, it will make you sweaty and makes you lose precious liquids. We want to avoid this!
THE BEST RAMADAN WORKOUT
The way you workout depends on the time you are training, before or after breaking the fast. When you plan to train after breaking the fast, you can do your normal routine, however I advise to avoid training more than an hour. In the following lines I will explain how to train before breaking your fast, 1 hour before Maghreb (sunset).
As we have agreed previously we want to maintain as much as possible of our hard gained strength and muscle mass during the Ramadan. We will try to avoid a big setback after this holy month. After many years of training I developed a training method to do this, provided that you eat and sleep enough.
My training involves a maximum of 5 exercises per day and max 5 reps. It is built around the main compound exercises. Using free weights has many benefits which I explained in one of my previous posts. Rest long enough the recover from your reps. Remember, the exercises are all about preserving muscle strength and mass.
I will give you a Sample Ramadan Workout. As I argued previously, I like to train 3 times a week during the Ramadan. Let’s say I want to train on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
|Bicep Barbell Curl||4||5|
|Pull up||3||Stop just before failure|
|Wide Latt Pulldown||3||5|
|Dumbell Chest Press||3||5|
|Tricep Rope Extensions||3||5|
Please share your progress and results during this month. Have a Blessed month!
Nizar – Fitnessbackpacker