Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Ramadan is nearly upon us again, a religious month observed by approximately 1.6 to 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide.
A period of prayer, reflection and celebration during which Muslims fast, abstaining from both food and drink, from sunrise to sunset.
It can be challenging and it can also be highly rewarding but what are the best food and training choices for anyone looking to get into shape or stay in shape and continue their fitness journey during this time?
The Perfect Time To Lose Weight?
You’re probably thinking if you’re fasting, you’re going to lose weight anyway so it doesn’t matter!
Well, that’s not necessarily true!
There’s evidence to suggest that many individuals who lose weight during Ramadan are back to their pre-Ramadan weight within a month or so after Ramadan ends.
With approximately 15% of the population of Singapore being Muslim, I’ve treated and counselled many Muslim patients during Ramadan and in my own clinical experience, without the proper guidance, a lot of patients find themselves not losing weight and actually gaining weight during Ramadan!
Wait, what?? Yeah, imagine fasting all day, no food or drink, especially if you’re in a hot climate and somewhere where the days are long! You’ll be famished by the time you can break your fast and if you’re presented with a glorious feast, a royal banquet, surrounded by friends and family, are you going to be able to control yourself or are you going to stuff your face till your belly is bulging?!
It’s surprisingly easy to over-indulge and find yourself gaining weight!
Some do indeed eat and drink less during the Ramadan period but unknowingly, many will also move less and exercise less during this time! By consuming less and also exercising less, it kinda balances out so you end up losing less weight than you might have thought or lose no weight at all!
On the flip side, you also have to remember that if you are losing weight, you don’t want to lose weight too quickly! Lose weight quickly and you run the risk of losing precious muscle, your body will think you’re starving to death, it’ll perceive this as a threat to your survival and, long story short, your body will drop its metabolic rate to protect you. This sets you up for fat-overshooting, meaning you run the risk of gaining weight above and beyond what you had before you even started fasting!
So here are some nutrition and training strategies to optimize your fitness if you’re fasting during Ramadan!
It’s paramount that you have enough rest and sleep during Ramadan to prevent injuries and ensure adequate recovery following your workouts.
Time To Go To The Dark Side
If your work or schedule allows you to do so, then flip to a night shift!
Sleep during the day and simply spread out your usual meals and training routine throughout the night while you’re awake! This way you’ll be able to stick to your normal training and dietary routines unhindered!
For many of you, you’ll have work, school and other activities which will make it impossible for you to flip your timetable.
So, if you can’t swap over to sleeping in the day and staying awake during the night, then you’re going to have to make the best of the situation.
We’d suggest structuring your meals and training as follows:
Avoid Fasted Exercise
The research is clear that fat burning is not more efficient when exercising on an empty stomach and conversely, when you’re unable to even drink water, you run the risk of injury and severe dehydration if you’re not careful.
Exercising after a meal means that your body is fuelled to allow you to train and recover much more effectively.
With the above point in mind, we’d recommend you exercise 1-2 hours after you break your fast and definitely not at the end of the fasting period when you’ll be at your weakest and most dehydrated.
Ramadan is not the time to break personal records! Forget the marathon, forget your HIIT workouts and spin classes! They’re all too extreme and you’ll run the risk of injuring yourself.
Resistance, weight training, is a good option but we’d suggest you cut back on the frequency. Evidence suggests that although putting on muscle can be very hard, you only need about a third of your usual volume of training to keep what you have.
Training 3-4 times per week instead of 5-6 times per week is a good strategy and if you’re already training 2-3 times per week, you can continue at that frequency.
Instead of training heavy and hard, focus on good technique and proper form during your lifts as well as TUT (time under tension), performing exercises much more slowly, keeping the muscles under tension. Train smarter, not harder!
In terms of cardio, a gentler option such as LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio will be much kinder to your body in its fasted state. Think incline treadmill walks or a nice leisurely, brisk walk outside instead of the more intense alternatives.
Aim to have three to four meals during your eating window and ensure all your meals are protein rich to minimize muscle loss, protect your metabolic rate and at the same time, keep you feeling satiated and full for longer.
Although it might be difficult, try your best to hit the goal of consuming 2g of protein for every kilogram of ideal body weight.
Although they’re not always accurate, you can use a BMI calculator to advise you on the ideal medical weight for your height.
So, if the ideal body weight for someone of your height is 70kg, aim to consume 140g of protein per day.
It’s just a target to aim for so, as always, try your best but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make it!
Breaking Fast / Sunset
Break your fast with a rapidly digesting meal, to provide quick fuel and hydration for your body, aiming to keep it relatively light so that you can train effectively 1-2 hours after the meal.
If you make the meal too heavy, you’ll feel too full, bloated, tired and maybe sleepy to train productively.
Good breakfast options include 1 to 2 scoops of whey protein or egg whites and quick release carbs, like fruits, rice, bread and oatmeal. The quick release carbs will provide sugar (glucose) your muscles can use during your workout.
Carbs also have a protein sparing effect, meaning more of the protein you consume can be used by your muscles to recover instead of being converted to sugar for energy.
Flow French Toast from our cookbook is a perfect choice!
Aim to have a much bigger meal after your workout and your heaviest meal before you start fasting.
This time choose slower digesting foods to keep you feeling full longer during the day. Fibrous foods such as apples, oranges, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, vegetables and other fruits are good choices.
Don’t forget your protein and if your calories allow, you can consider some healthy fats from sources such as salmon, eggs and avocado.
Slow digesting casein protein shakes are another convenient way for you to achieve your daily protein intake goals.
Flow Like The Water
It goes without saying, you need to make sure you’re well hydrated.
Unless you’re on some kind of medical fluid restriction, you can use the following formulas to give you a rough estimate of how much water you should be consuming per day (it’ll be roughly 2000-3000 mL of water for most healthy adults):
For 0 - 10 kg = weight (kg) x 100 mL/kg/day
For 10-20 kg = 1000 mL + [weight (kg) x 50 ml/kg/day]
For > 20 kg = 1500 mL + [weight (kg) x 20 ml/kg/day]
Just drink as much as you comfortably can before the fast starts.
Sure, you’ll probably be peeing loads afterwards but your body will be thanking you for it by the time the sun sets!
Eid Mubarak and as we say to our Muslim friends in & around Singapore, Selamat Hari Raya!
So, there you have it, a few tips and tricks to keep your fitness on the fast-track to success even while you’re fasting for Ramadan.
Keep your fitness gains and maybe even make some new ones!
Take care folks and see you in the next post!
Dr. Bobby Stryker