Ramadan is here once again. For some Muslims, this only means a spiritual lock down; for others, it means a 30 day detox of their body and soul. Some Muslims think that Ramadan is simply a time to become unhealthy. However, Ramadan is actually about gains: spiritual gains, mental gains, and physical gains.
Ramadan is a time to set healthy habits that we can carry on forward.
Ramadan is not a temporary change in our lifestyle, rather it’s a time to instill healthy lifestyle habits. Most of all, Ramadan is a time to detox from this world of fitna and realize that we are the face of the nation and the thumbnail of history; we carry the reputation of great leaders. Therefore, it makes complete sense that we need to have physical strength, which goes hand in hand with spiritual strength.
Think back in time to the companions who walked beside the Prophet . They were certainly not boasting with their hanging bellies and scrawny arms. Those men certainly had physical strength to match their will. However, it is never too late for you to start. Your body is a vessel, and it will be as strong as you make it. This Ramadan, make it your resolution to create a stronger version of yourself.
Whether your goal is muscle building (muscles maintenance during fasting state) or to lose body fat, your meal plan is the main thing. Proper nutrition can do both actually, and it will also fuel you for taraweeh nights. The last thing you need is another Ramadan of fatigue and tiredness that just won’t go away.
If fatigue was a big part of your Ramadan last year, then you definitely did not fuel your body efficiently. This Ramadan, try a proper nutrition plan which includes high protein, high fat and moderate to low carbs. This is explained in detail later, don’t freak out just yet!
Fasting is strenuous on the body as it is deprived of its needed nutrients and forced to use stored energy. This can prove fruitful if you are looking to burn fat. Maintenance of muscle is purely based on your protein and fat intake according to your body weight. Your protein intake is found by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 0.8 to 1. For example, I weigh 200 pounds, so this Ramadan I cannot have less than 200 grams of protein to maintain my lean muscle mass. If you are carrying less muscle, then multiply your weight by 0.8. For men with more muscle mass, it’s best to multiply by 1. Throughout the day, your body will naturally burn a bit of muscle for protein synthesis, but this will not hamper your physic too much.
Have high protein meals
Unless you plan on looking skinny and feeling severely tired, then you better plan on having protein packed meals, and no, I am not talking about silly protein bars. Select the healthiest
- white meat
- white fish
- red meat
- whole eggs
- local curd / doi (if you are not lactose intolerant)
- dairy ( if you are not lactose intolerant)
It is safe for you to eat 3 to 5 whole eggs daily if you plan on continuing your weight training regimen. Whey protein is an excellent choice for fast digesting protein. Whey protein smoothies should be taken directly after exercise and possibly to break fast. Don’t worry if you are new to this concept. Whey is the liquid portion of milk when cheese is made. It is one of nature’s best choices to quickly absorb protein. After a long day of fasting, your body is looking for amino acids for protein synthesis. You can include high quality protein powders in your meal plan. Protein is needed by the body to repair, maintain, and build muscle / cells. The lack of proper protein will force your body to break down the muscle it already has. Proper protein intake also assures your metabolism doesn’t slow to a halt and that you are feeling energetic throughout ibadah and family time.
Include healthy fats
Forget the fear of fat and everything you have been taught about it. Fat is needed for the body’s most important functions such as hormone production and brain activities. Therefore, if you are on a low fat diet, then you are heading to a disastrous zone of low testosterone. Fat also regulates your body’s sensors of storing fat. Eating the wrong fat (bad fat) or not eating enough sends your body into fat storage mode. This Ramadan, include healthy fats in your diet.
- swap nasty vegetable cooking oil with natural local butter
- eat natural local peanut butter
- enjoy red meats cooked healthily
- never throw away the egg yolks
Hormones are the messengers of your body, and they regulate the body’s functions. The last thing you want is to sabotage your Ramadan because of silly low fat diets. Increase good fat, and stay away from processed foods that contain damaging bad fats. For fat intake, multiply you body weight by 0.7. Normally it is 0.5, but considering you are in fasting state, multiply by 0.7.
Fish oil is a major part of your body’s daily needs, so enjoy fish 4 to 6 days a week.
Aim for moderate to low carbs
Although this may seem counter-intuitive, low carbs meal plans work and can be adopted for a healthy lifestyle. What I mean is that the carbs you choose to eat are very clean and natural complex carbs such as brown rice, potatoes and lentils. Maida / attta are actually harmful and increase inflammation in the body to a great degree. Carbs from maida flour can do some invisible damage that you are not seeing. Therefore, stick to the best possible carb sources. If you must eat roti, then try rice flour roti. Paratha’s are not a good choice. Don’t be afraid to eat rice as it is zero fat. You should eat only what is needed for your body intake. Your carb intake should be no less then half of your protein intake. A low carb diet will also force your body to burn stored energy aka body fat. Stick to complex carbs that won’t cause your blood sugar to spike. These spikes are what leaves us extremely fatigued after iftar. Complex carbs are digested slowly, release energy slowly, and prevent the sudden onset of hunger or fatigue. Dates and nuts are a must during Ramadan. Carb intake should be equal to protein intake or roughly equal. Multiply your body weight by 1.
Don’t forget the fiber
Consider fiber as your best friend. Raw green and colorful vegetables are a must in your meal plan. Plant fiber (insoluble) will protect you from constipation and stomach illnesses, which usually occur due to a bad diet during fasting. If you suffer from acidity and gas, then munch on a raw vegetable during iftar. Don’t underestimate the power of green and vegetables as they provide crucial minerals that your muscle and body needs. A good plan is 2 to 3 cups of vegetable every night. Remember to not overcook the vegetable. Eating it in the raw state or as near to raw as possible is best.
That should say it all. Muscle building and maintenance is purely dependent on the stimulus you give it. Weight training will maintain the muscle you have already while growth will be lower than normal. Seek maximum muscle gains after Ramadan. Right now, focus on keeping what you have, so you don’t lose strength and feel weak by Eid. Two best times are right before iftar and 1.5 hours after iftar (heavy meal). It may be difficult to train while you fast but this is the best time to burn body fat. With iftar about an hour away, you won’t do too much damage by turning catabolic. After iftar / heavy meal, it is best if you can squeeze in an hour of iron before taraweeh, or any time before sahoor is great. Stay far away from any type of cardio as this will burn pure lean muscle for energy. Focus on training each muscle group and make a weekly routine. If you are a regular to weight training/ body building and are used to going 6 days a week, now you will go 3 to 4 days a week. Lift as comfortable as you can go, but don’t stand there with 5 kilos. Push yourself, and understand that your body is stronger than you think.
The most important part of all this is to learn discipline in following a healthy lifestyle. It is not about dieting; it is about giving your body what it needs. It’s not going to help if you fail to make a healthy change. This change should transcend all boundaries. Gains in strength include spiritual, mental, and of course, physical. Keep in mind this goal and as always, FOCUS!
Note: Females can adopt this concept as well with lower amount of fat intake. 0.5 to be exact.
Feel free to comment below on which of these health changes you plan on focusing on or share any other health lifestyle changes that can benefit other readers. In sha Allah, we all have spiritual, mental, and physical gains this blessed Ramadan.