training during Ramadan

Training during Ramadan

When you cannot eat or drink for 16 hours or so each day, what do you do?!

Training during Ramadan? A question I get asked regularly each year, is how to best eat and train during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims around the world, for it is within this month that the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed.  A special requirement for this month is that all Muslims who are able to, are required to fast every day from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from all eating or drinking, and not even water is allowed.

Harder than Intermittent Fasting

Clearly this is very different from the Intermittent Fasting (IF) protocols that are popular at the moment. At least with IF you still drink fluids whilst fasting. But for Ramadan, this is not the case!

To make matters even more difficult, the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar. So the timing of the Islamic months continues to change each year.  Unfortunately, Ramadan this year begins in May, meaning that in the UK sunrise is actually around 5.00am and sunset isn’t until around 9.00pm.  So yes, for those that are able to do it, the requirement is nil-to-mouth, so no food or water during this time.  This equates to about 16 hours!  So that means that Muslims are left with a very small window to eat and drink each day, and that’s it!

training during Ramadan

Reduce your exercise – but don’t stop it completely!

Considering how difficult this task will make carrying out simple everyday routine activities, like going to work or school, it seems that sensible advice would be to put to temporarily significantly reduce the amount of any hard exercise you do.  Your body will be under a lot of stress and be severely depleted and dehydrated, so trying to train hard frequently and for long workouts would only stress the body even more, and potentially exhaust yourself and make yourself unwell.

The bad news is that you have to accept that your body will quite possibly lose SOME muscle, lose SOME strength, and gain SOME fat.  The good news is that it most likely will only be YOU that notices it!  And don’t worry, after Ramadan your body will very quickly return to the level of conditioning it was in before Ramadan.

That is not to say that you should do absolutely nothing during Ramadan, no!

training during Ramadan

Strength Training

In order to maintain as much strength and muscle as possible, it is recommended to perform very short but hard resistance training workouts.  I’d suggest limiting hard training sessions to 2 or 3 a week, and to only train for 40 minutes at the most.  In fact, quick 30-minute workouts would be even better.

Save your energy and training time for compound exercises that involve using multiple muscle groups at once.  I’d suggest performing 3 hard working sets of 5 – 8 reps per exercise, with 2 minutes or so rest between sets.  Warm up with a couple of easy sets before each exercise.  And pick 3 to 5 exercises per workout.

Free weight exercises would be best for this, like barbell squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bent over rows, and bench press.  BUT, if you are feeling tired, weak, or groggy, then safety must take priority! So if you aren’t feeling up to it, then take caution and use the smith machine, or opt to use resistance machines instead.  Safety first!

training during Ramadan

Extra Training

On maybe 2 or 3 of the other days that you don’t train hard, you can perform “easy” mobility and flexibility exercises and drills.  These should not exert you too much, and can consist of bodyweight exercises like push ups, sit ups, chin ups, dips, body weight squats and lunges.  You could also do some light weights exercises too if you wanted.  However, all of these exercises should be with an easy weight and again, should not exert you too much.  These are only to provide your muscles with SOME stimulation, and to practice the movements to prevent you feeling rusty upon returning to regular training after Ramadan.

You could do some of the exercises from my Dynamic Warm Up HERE!

training during Ramadan

Cardio

As for cardio, it is really not recommended to do much more than walking. Besides perhaps 5 easy minutes of say the cross trainer or rowing machine to warm up.  However, if you really did feel obliged to do cardio, then HIIT on a stationary bike could be the way to go. 6 – 10 intervals of 20 second sprints, with 1 minute easy pedalling in between should do the job.

Just walking, on the other hand is fine and I recommend it. Still get your 10,000 steps a day!

training during Ramadan

When to train

As for what time to train, I’d say, if possible, to train in the morning when you are fresher and hydrated from eating and drinking the night before.

The downside however, of training earlier in the day, is that if you overdo it and train too hard, there is a chance that you will struggle to make it through the rest of the day until sunset!  So be mindful of this, and don’t overexert yourself!

Otherwise, you could train before sunset as late in the evening time as possible, so that as soon as you finish you can immediately go home and eat and drink.  Of course, you will be weaker and more depleted at this time, so you will have to pay extra attention to safety in your choice of exercises.

It might be tempting to try and train during the night after eating, but I really advise against it.  The window for eating and drinking is so small, that you need to be using this time as best as possible just for that – eating and drinking!  Don’t waste sunset hours training!

training during Ramadan

Sample Routine for Training during Ramadan

Monday – Strength Training

  1. Barbell Squat (or Leg Press) 3 sets of 6 reps
  2. Overhead Dumbbell Press (or Smith Machine Shoulder Press) 3 sets of 8 reps
  3. Barbell Bent Over Row (or Seated Cable Row) 3 sets of 6 reps
  4. Dumbbell Bench Press (or Smith Machine Bench Press) 3 sets of 8 reps

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

Tuesday – Mobility / Flexibility

Stretching

  1. Push ups 3 sets of 10 reps
  2. Bodyweight Lunges 3 sets of 10 reps / side
  3. Crunches 3 sets of 20 reps

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

Wednesday – Mobility / Flexibility

Stretching

  1. Bench Dips 3 sets of 10 reps
  2. Bodyweight Squats 3 sets of 10 reps
  3. Lying Leg raises 3 sets of 20 reps

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

Thursday – Strength Training

  1. Barbell Deadlift (or Weighted Hyperextensions) 3 sets of 6 reps
  2. Barbell Overhead Press (or Shoulder Press Machine) 3 sets of 8 reps
  3. Weighted Pull Ups (or Lat Pull Down Machine) 3 sets of 8 reps
  4. Barbell Bench Press (or Chest Press Machine) 3 sets of 8 reps

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

Friday – Rest

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

Saturday – Mobility / Flexibility

Stretching

  1. Push ups with feet elevated 3 sets of 10 reps
  2. Glute Bridges 3 sets of 10 reps
  3. Plank 3 sets of 45 second hold

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

Sunday – Rest

10,000 steps walking throughout the day

training during Ramadan

What to eat

That covers training during Ramadan. As for what to eat during Ramadan, there are two approaches: on the one hand you could say “forget it!” and just eat whatever, and worry about following a good diet again after. Or the second approach, which is to take a more thought out strategy.

If you were going to go with the second approach, I would actually recommend following as close to a ketogenic diet as possible, so that means focussing on eating protein and healthy fats, but eating as few (preferably no) carbs as possible.  The reason for this, is that if you eat carbs your body will no doubt burn through this energy source part way through the next day, causing you to “bonk” so to borrow a word from cycling.

When you “bonk” your body runs out of carbs as an energy source, causing your body to go through a difficult transitional period of adapting to use fats and/ or protein for energy.  This transitional period can be accompanied by brain fog, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, headache, moodiness, amongst other unwelcome symptoms.  So rather than experiencing these symptoms on a daily basis through Ramadan, simply abstain from eating carbs, put your body into a fat burning state, and remain that way until the end of Ramadan.

This means avoiding carbs, which includes obvious things like sugary drinks (diet drinks are OK) and fruit juice, but also avoiding bread, rice, pasta, milk, fruit, and things that include “hidden carbs” like ketchup and sauces.  This may sound difficult, especially the part about avoiding fruit since dates are traditionally consumed to break the fast, but if you HAVE to have a date then limit it to just one!  For the first few days of this diet you may struggle and crave carbs and sugary things once it comes time to eat, but don’t do it!  It’s for your own good!  These cravings will subside after the first few days and this diet will make the rest of Ramadan A LOT easier for you.

training during Ramadan

Calories

You should carry on training during Ramadan, and we’ve discussed nutrition. But it is up to you whether you choose to track calories during Ramadan.  Though to be honest, I’d recommend that you DO track calories for the first week of fasting at least.  It will give you an idea of how many calories you are taking in, and make you more mindful about your food choices.  I suggest you use a calorie counting app like MyFitnessPal (www.myfitnesspal.com).

If you’ve never used a calorie counting app before, I show you how to use it HERE!

Even if you carry on training during Ramadan, just remember that your activity levels will no doubt decrease. So you will not be moving as much and will be burning less calories.  Additionally, your metabolism will no doubt slow down as your body will try to preserve its resources during the fast.

See my post on Metabolism HERE

So, all of this means that your body will need less calories than it normally would on a daily basis.  Therefore, I wouldn’t worry about force feeding yourself after sunset to eat as many calories as possible, as this is NOT necessary!  Your body won’t need it!  If anything, you should focus more on rehydrating your body anyway.

training during Ramadan

Sleep

We’ve covered training during Ramadan and eating. Lastly, an often forgotten topic of Ramadan is sleep.  Your eating schedule will be turned upside down during this month.  Many of you will be up until the early hours of the morning eating, yet you still have to go to work or school early the next day.  Really there is no solid remedy for this, besides if possible, getting in as many naps as you can.  If you are fortunate enough to have a flexible schedule where you can sleep in until later in the day, then great.  But otherwise, you will just have to do the best you can.  This may mean taking naps at lunch time, naps after work, and naps in the evening time.  And certainly use the weekends as a prime opportunity to catch up on those missed hours of sleep too!

training during Ramadan

Training during Ramadan and staying on top of your nutrition is difficult. It’s not easy, but on the plus side at least its only for one month!  Then your life can go back to normal after!  Good luck!

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