Ramadan is a holy month of fasting for 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide. For 30 days every year, Muslims abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset (approx. 15 hours per day). This can be challenging for many individuals in this population who follow exercise and nutrition protocols with body composition goals in mind. Learn more below from Composition ID’s Arlington, VA Manager, Rad Aldajani, on how to navigate Ramadan from his 30+ years of personal experience combined with vast knowledge of fitness and nutrition.
“The purpose of fasting is a physical and spiritual “cleanse” where the lack of food and water makes one thankful for having access to it for the other 11 months of the year. It also helps one relate to the experience of what the less fortunate who lack access to food and water feel year-round. It is also a time of charity-giving.
Fasting from sunrise to sunset presents many challenges to those who follow a disciplined exercise, diet and nutrition program. Complete lack of nutrition and hydration for 15-16 hours are the obvious challenges. Rapid weight loss, both in fat and lean muscle, is common for the first 7-10 days, after which the body stabilizes and adjusts to a new reality of diminished nutrition. Another side effect is lack of energy, strength, and focus the first 7-10 days, but this too is adapted to and the body returns to normal focus and energy – although strength levels still remain somewhat reduced.
To minimize lean muscle mass loss during Ramadan, it is important to become strategic in maximizing what you eat during the non-fasting times (sunset to sunrise). Since the stomach greatly reduces in size from fasting, it is important not to overeat and over-hydrate when you break your fast at sunset, as this can cause stomach discomfort, cramps and indigestion. It is recommended to break your fast with a glass of water and a serving of dates which have an excellent nutritional profile: high in carbs (for quick energy replenishment), fiber, and key vitamins and minerals. After this initial fast break, a small meal 20-30 minutes later that is high in protein and balanced with vegetables and complex rice or grain carbs is recommended, along with hydration through increased water consumption. Prior to bedtime, adding a casein protein shake is excellent for slow release of protein into your system while sleeping. Pre-dawn brings another important opportunity to eat before the fast resumes. Many people will set their alarm 15-20 minutes before the start of fasting to consume a meal. A great option for those committed to fitness is a “complete” protein shake (protein powder, milk, water, kale, banana, raw almonds or walnuts, berries, chia seeds) with at least 25-30 ounces of water.
Following a normal training and workout schedule is impossible during Ramadan because fasting encompassing all daylight hours, and so a complete restructuring is needed. The main goals are to remain disciplined, not succumb to the temptation to “take the month” off from exercise, and minimize what will inevitably be some loss of lean muscle mass. Here are some exercise tips to consider while fasting:
- Restructure your training time. Shift weight training to the late evening or about 45-60 minutes after you break your fast. Do not weight train while in a fasted state.
- On weight training days, do not break your fast with a heavy meal. Water, a protein shake and a slice of whole grain bread with a thin spread of hummus is ideal. Save your bigger, balanced meal for post-weight training nutrition.
- Keep your weight training efficient and focused. A five-minute warm-up and a 35-minute workout with no distractions is sufficient. Then, a five-minute cool-down. You can also perform a super-set for biceps and triceps with chest and back days.
- Separate cardio training from weight training days. It’s ok to do moderate intensity cardio right before you break your fast in the evening but high intensity cardio may be too intense without hydration.
- Ensure adequate protein intake at fast break time, after training, and during the pre-dawn meal.
- Complete 3 workouts in the first 3 days of Ramadan. This will help you mentally and physically establish a routine and set you on the path for a solid month of exercise.
The feeling of accomplishment and discipline of fasting for 30 consecutive days carries over positively into all aspects of one’s life, particularly in terms of diet and exercise. Although working out during Ramadan is challenging and requires discipline and mental and physical adaptability, once Ramadan is over, the feeling of achievement of accomplishing a goal is euphoric and will make your normal post-Ramadan workout routine seem easy in comparison!”