One of the most frequently asked questions by Muslims to nutrition experts is how can I workout and eat properly while I am fasting? Most people see the blessed month of Ramadan as a time when they will surely lose strength and or muscle mass and some people think that the best they can do is “maintain” their weight/muscles during this month.
This cannot be further from the truth. In fact, if you use some of the strategies I am about to share with you, you can make some of your best gains during this month! It’s all about maximizing nutrient uptake, maintaining proper hydration, and modifying key fat burning/muscle building hormones in your favor during this month. And of course PREPARATION—If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail! Plus, how can you truly maximize this month spiritually if your body is sick, tired, and your mind isn’t sharp?
First of all, let’s look at what happens to your body during Ramadan. While you are fasting, obviously you become more dehydrated at rest—but actually less than, if you had exercised aerobically for over an hour (so exercise causes greater dehydration for that time period versus fasting). Your main metabolic fuel source for bodily function during fasting is mainly fat, which is a good thing.
So the goals during Ramadan are to maximize metabolism (even though your metabolism will slow down due to less frequent meals), preserve and enhance as much lean muscle mass as possible (which will inherently increase metabolic rate and allow you to burn more calories at rest), and maximize your workout (both cardio and weight training). I really recommend that you limit cardio to 2 days a week at the most. This is again to preserve as much lean muscle tissue as possible.
There is actually research showing the health benefits of fasting. It is truly a physical purification. According to a study published in the reputable European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers concluded that “no detrimental effects on health have as yet been directly attributed to negative water balance at the levels that may be produced in Ramadan.” Other research has actually shown cardiovascular benefits of fasting during Ramadan—that is if you can avoid the IBS (no, not irritable bowel syndrome) but the dreaded Iftar Binging Syndrome! It is vital to eat moderate to small meals even after iftar.
Ok, enough of the background, let’s get to the meat of it! I am going to set the record straight here.
The best time to do a weight training workout is NOT while fasting.
This can create way too much muscle breakdown. Training while in a state of dehydration can decrease strength significantly. Training while you are fasting can actually be more detrimental than beneficial!
The best time to weight train during Ramadan is after Taraweh prayers at night.
This will ensure that you will have several meals and plenty of water in your system before going to the gym. This will also allow you to consume your all-important post workout meal or shake which is essential for muscle growth and even fat loss. If this is too late then the next best time to weight train is about 1 hour after Iftar, before taraweh prayer. You could do a short but intense 30 minute workout.
The best time to do cardio work for maximum fat loss is before suhur. Of course, most people I know will not want to get up at around 3: 30 AM and do cardio! If you CAN pull this off then the best thing to do is get up and drink plenty of water with a cup of coffee, green tea, or oolong tea, wait 30 minutes and perform 30-45 minutes of moderate intensity cardio work like a brisk walk on a treadmill.
Short, high intensity cardio like SPRINTING IS ACTUALLY GREAT TO DO DURING RAMADAN. It takes less than 10 minutes and provides maximum benefit in terms of fat burning and lean muscle preservation! This isn’t “driving miss Daisy” cardio—its very intensive-Ex. Sprint for 20-30 seconds at full speed (like a dog is chasing you!) and walk for 1 min. Do 4-5 cycles like that and you’re good! Start slow of course and work your way up.
[DISCLAIMER: The content of this article is for information purposes only. Please consult a physician before starting any nutrition, training, or supplementation program]
Hope you enjoyed Part I, Part II is coming up soon!
About the Author
Rehan Jalali is President of the Supplement Research Foundation. He is a nationally recognized Certified Sports Nutritionist (C.S.N.) who has developed over 100 cutting edge products for the dietary supplement industry. He has developed cutting edge customized nutrition and supplementation programs for actors getting ready for movie roles, and celebrities for award shows. Visit his website at http://www.rehanjalali.com/