I’ve been getting a lot of messages and emails about how to train and eat in Ramadan. In essence, here’s a low down on how to tweak your training and nutrition to make the most of what is contrary to common belief a great time to reach your goals.In this article, ill take you through the science behind fasting
If you have been following my posts, you very well know about intermittent fasting. Fasting in Ramadan takes this approach a little further by prolonging the fasting period and refraining you from any fluid intake.
Research has shown, and quite clearly states that fasting does wonders to the body. The long fasting periods allow your body to allocate energy resources to detoxify the body and perform a complete cleanse cycle that is otherwise interrupted due to frequent feeding. One of the benefits of fasting is that it allows the body to mobilize toxins from the body, as well as promoting the breakdown of fat tissue, tumors and other toxic materials that have accumulated over time. Fasting aids in lowering blood glucose and Insulin levels. This causes breakdown of glycogen from the liver to provide glucose for energy. Once glycogen is depleted, the body resorts to other sources of stored energy, which happens to be fat. With that being said, you can see that other than the detoxifying benefits of fasting, the practice also promotes the breakdown of adipose tissue (fat stores), which seems to be the goal of many of you.
Our body works hard to maintain smooth & optimal operation. It does so by trying to get rid of toxins that develop and accumulate in our blood stream. These pollutants vary from foreign substances such as those in processed foods (which our body was not meant to process) to exhaust fumes, perfumes, and other gases that end up in our lungs and get absorbed by the body, building up in our blood stream. Every time you eat or drink, your body must allocate resources and energy to digest, absorb and transport nutrients to their respective channels. Your body is a machine, and just like any other, it needs to be serviced to maintain optimal functioning. Now fasting does just that, it provides the body with a window to perform the latter.
In fact, I encourage non-Muslims to try it out, even if it’s just for a few days. Other than the physiological and biological benefits of fasting, it teaches you mental toughness. Ramadan fasting is actually an exercise in self-discipline. For those who chain smoke, nibble on food constantly, or are caffeine dependent, fasting is a good way to break the habit, regardless of your beliefs. Many who fast exhibit mental tranquility and inner peace. It’s not only the act of abstaining from food, but a time of self-restraint to focus on who you are as a person, better yourself and devote your time to getting closer to God. Not only that, but it distinguishes the feeling of hunger from the desire to eat from boredom or out of habit.
Working out in Ramadan
There really is no magic workout routine in Ramadan. With intermittent fasting, your workouts stay the same regardless of fasted training, one meal, or 2 meals pre workout. The same applies to fasting in Ramadan.
One obstacle that may hamper your workouts is the social obligation that comes with Ramadan as well as the religious responsibilities for those of you who perform the “taraweeh”* prayers. After all, that’s what Ramadan is about, bettering yourself as a believer, performing your duties as well as bringing friends and family closer. Other than that it’s a matter of fitting in your workout at a time that is convenient as well as one that will be consistent.
*An average person will expend 200 calories throughout the taraweeh prayer.
Below are a few tips and tweaks. Depending on what you do in Ramadan, I’m sure you will find that incorporating some or all of the following will help and get you the results you desire:
I train right after breaking my fast. I have a few dates, down a shake and head out to the gym. Then when Im done, I have my first meal. That, in my opinion, would be the most ideal timing. This works best since you have some quick digesting protein, in addition to fast acting carbs (dates) providing you with the right nutrients to 1. Replenish your body quickly after the fasting period and 2. Providing you with the energy to get through your workout.
After your workout, your body is primed to transfer nutrients to your muscles versus storing them as fat. This, in addition to increased insulin sensitivity (due to the fast and effects of weight training) allows you to guiltlessly indulge in more carbs than you often would.
Another perk of training in this time is that you have the time to perform your prayers (taraweeh), after which you are free to watch your favorite Ramadan sitcoms, or go out and meet family and friends.
I typically wouldn’t favor weight training in a fasted state, since it may cause your body to become catabolic and target your hard earned muscle for energy. However, if you can sustain a decent workout in a fasted state then I would recommend you do it right before breaking your fast. i.e. get your workout in an hour before you break your fast. This way you feed right after it. This way may be better suited for those that like to join their family and friends for iftar.
The same goes for cardio in a fasted state. I would not advise any form of fasted high intensity interval training or purely cardiovascular tabata training. In other words, no intense cardio that does not involve resistance training as this would put your body in a purely catabolic state. What you can do is the old-school steady state cardio. What I like to do is go for an hour-long walk. I go for a distance of 8.5 km which I usually finish in just over an hour (+/- 6 minutes). This is great, as it does not tax your body enough for it to break down muscle as well as provides a great way to incorporate active recovery.
I prefer Total Body Training (TBT), as it only calls for 3 workouts per week, allowing you more time to spend with family, pray, and attend to other religious /social activities you do in Ramadan. Not to mention that Incorporating a strength focused TBT routine will help in holding on to your hard earned muscle during the prolonged fasting period while helping you shed unwanted body fat.
Now, im sure you all know that, regardless of the approach you incorporate, nothing will work if you don’t have your nutrition in check. This is where it gets a little tricky.
Unfortunately, many take Ramadan and fasting as an excuse to eat monstrous amounts of food. A month that should be dedicated to strengthening your soul, spirit and mind turns into a month of gluttonous indulging in food. While this month calls for moderation and giving, huge amounts of food is wasted rather than given to the less fortunate. Man can go without food for days, just because you fast for 16 hours does not mean that you have to eat everything in sight.
Your nutrition should not change from what it was. At the end of the day, the same equation applies; calories in vs calories out. Making smart food choices while in a caloric deficit will improve your health as well as speed up your progress.
One mistake many make is that they don’t calculate the food they eat in suhoor to their daily total. The food you have at suhoor doesn’t magically evaporate, it all adds to your total. I personally don’t have suhoor. I don’t see a difference in hunger / energy levels. In fact, I tend to feel grouchy when I do. I have a normal dinner, and at times will add in casein protein since its released at a slower rate. Over the years, having suhoor didn’t have any significant change in body composition; be it fat loss, muscle gain.
A critical factor to focus on during Ramadan is your water intake. Make sure you drink enough water in your feeding window and drink up before heading to bead. That is the most important factor in Ramadan. People tend to forget to drink enough water and prioritize food when it should be the other way round; after all, you can last days without food, but without water, you can only last a little over a day. This will also help in keeping you satiated and ward off useless eating.
In regards to supplementation, the supplements you would usually take won’t change much in Ramadan. One thing I would encourage people to do is to get yourself a tub of casein protein. Casein protein is a slow digesting protein, it forms lumps in your stomach as it makes contact with your stomach acids. The latter makes it great as your last meal (Suhoor) as it will be absorbed at a much slower rate than regular whey / protein blends. Casein protein takes up to 8 hours until it is completely broken down and absorbed by the body. Another thing to be wary of is if any of you supplement with pre-workout supplements such as jacked, supercharge, no xplode, fat burners etc. The main concern is that these are heavily caffeinated and might give you trouble falling asleep as you will be taking it later on in the day compared to normal days. If you cant workout without them , you can stil use them but you will need to give your body a week or so to adapt to the the new supplementation timing.
For those of you who prefer whole foods, opt for casein containing foods such as cottage cheese and eggs which will keep you satiated for longer periods of time as well as providing you with an extended release of amino acids during the day.
Don’t approach Ramadan differently than you would any other time of the year. Everything stays the same and all what applies any other time still applies. Your goals are the same whether they are to shed fat or build muscle. Try to avoid the sugar-laden desserts and limit your carb sources like you would the rest of the year.
Above all, try to focus on what this holy month preaches and avoid capitalizing on the values and traits it devalues. Do that, and unknowingly you will achieve your sought after physique. Rather than see it as an obstacle to your goals, see it as an opportunity to achieve them. After all, the amount of time you have to mess up is drastically cut due to the abstinence of food.
How do you train in Ramadan, post and share!!! 🙂
Wishing you all a Happy Ramadan to you and your loved ones!!