A PT’s Guide to Exercise While Fasting During Ramadan

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Workouts

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and for Muslims worldwide is observed as a month of prayer, reflection, community and, of course, fasting.

For thirty days, from full moon to full moon, practicing Muslims will abstain from eating or drinking during sunrise hours. For most, this means from awakening until sunset.

Seen as a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship, for those interested in their training and physical fitness, Ramadan presents a unique opportunity for self-experimentation, but also presents its own challenges.

We sat down with author and MH elite coach Faisal Abdalla to talk all things exercise during Ramadan and the lessons he’s learned through decades of practice. He covered all our questions about Ramadan and gave his best tips on how to workout during Ramadan.

READ MORE: Tap Into This World-Class PT’s Fitness Secrets to Build Muscle—the Right Way

Faisal began fasting for Ramadan at 11 years old. He says there’s no hard rules as to what age you begin observing the practice, it depends heavily on your family but usually around puberty.

‘I was young and full of beans when I first started, so it was more about the willpower to not eat throughout the day than anything else. Even as I got older, I was playing basketball at college and I’d cycle, so I was always active during this period.’

As Faisal’s time in the gym and training became more important, there were certain concessions he had to make.

‘I had to accept that I wasn’t going to be doing any real high intensity fitness. Within that month it’s low intensity, massive rests between my sets and low reps… Ramadan is bigger than fitness, this is life.’

Can I Work Out During Ramadan?

‘There’s no one size fits all approach, but for people looking to maintain muscle mass, I would say limit your cardio-based sessions to once a week,’ says Abdalla. And for anyone wondering what is the best time to workout during Ramadan he recommends, ‘For people looking to build their training structure around the fast and to keep up their high intensity training, I always recommend training before suhoor [a pre-fast meal, observed before sunrise]. This may be between 4 and 5AM, but after training you’ve still got an hour to put the calories and fluids into your body before your fast begins.’

Depending on what time of year Ramadan falls, this can mean setting the alarm seriously early. Faisal says a more common approach is to train after Iftar, the breaking of the fast.

READ MORE: This Is What You Should Do if Squats Hurt Your Knees

‘You can either train lightly before Iftar, so you can go straight into eating and refuel your body, or you can break your fast with something very small. Typically, during Ramadan, this will be dates and some coffee, then once you’ve trained you can get all of the nutrients in.’

A 2012 study found that Muslim athletes who fast during Ramadan should use overnight opportunities to consume foods and drinks that can supply the nutrients needed to promote performance, adaptation, and recovery in their sports.

‘Because of the benefits of being able to consume at least some of these nutrients before, during or after an exercise session, the schedule of exercise should be shifted where possible to the beginning or end of the day, or during the evening when some nutritional support can be provided,’ says the study.

Faisal’s personal approach is to train as he normally would, but train smarter. Listening to his body and avoiding pushing himself too hard.

‘The goal isn’t fast until you pass out!’

Which Workout Is Best During Ramadan?

During Ramadan, the workout that will best suit you will depend greatly on your energy levels and recovery on the given day. Ideally, lower weights and rep ranges to suit how you feel and increase rest time if needed. However, there is no need for you to stop lifting weights if that is your preferred exercise choice. If you’re stuck for ideas, here are five of the best workouts that can be adjusted depending on your energy levels.

When Can You Eat During Ramadan?

During Ramadan, Muslims can eat before sunrise, which is known as Suhoor, and after sunset, which is known as Iftar. ‘The sun sets at around 6 o’clock. Average people go to bed at 10 o’clock or midnight. You’ve got 4 hours to get all your food in, all your drink in,’ says Faisal.

Faisal understands how daunting it can feel, with such a small window of opportunity to refuel in the evening. But it’s about not biting off more than you can chew and eating and drinking small portions throughout those hours.

‘Don’t feast,’ he says. ‘Don’t overeat to try and compensate for lost calories in the day. Take your time and don’t eat more than what you would in a normal day outside of Ramadan.’

READ MORE: This Is What You Should Do if Squats Hurt Your Knees

Aside from the quantity, it’s also important to focus on quality. A lack of proper nutrition after a big workout could suppress your immune system potentially pushing back your fitness goals even further. The same is true of the foods you eat at Iftar and beyond. The aim is to ensure you give your body everything it needs for recovery, but also enough calories to fuel the next day.

‘Quality of food is so important, but so are calories. ‘I aim to get as many calories into my body as possible, and certain foods contain more. High fats, high carbohydrate and high fibre. But it’s important to spread it out because your eyes can be bigger than your stomach. You’re so hungry so you prepare this huge banquet, you take two mouthfuls and your stomach says you’re done. Remember, when you start to fast, your stomach shrinks, you know you want to eat more but you just get so full. So little and often.’

Can You Drink Water During Ramadan?

Practicing Muslims are not permitted to drink water during the Ramadan daylight fasting hours. Faisal shares his rehydration tips to ensure you stay energised and hydrated throughout.

‘Aim to get two and a half litres of water in before you go to bed – it’s crucial if you want to maintain training, so get a big bottle and just keep going at it, sipping away mindfully throughout those hours, but ensuring it’s all gone before bed.’

Of course, hydration is even more crucial around your training, Faisal advises that ‘if you train after breaking fast, be sure to sip water during your training and after.’

You may be enticed to have a soft drink in this time, but Faisal advises you to steer clear.

‘They’re not going to hydrate you and give you what you need. Stick to the water or coconut water if you’re taking your training seriously.’

How to Prepare for Ramadan

While preparing your meals in advance will help ensure you’re getting in everything you need when working out during Ramadan, it’s very important to be mindful of the food you’re consuming.

‘The point of this is to be appreciative of what you have,’ he says.

And Faisal’s number one piece of advice for the hardcore gym goers amongst us during Ramadan? Setting realistic goals:

‘Scale back what you would normally do – shorten the sessions. If you usually do an hour drop it to 45 minutes. You may not have the mental strength to push as long as usual and the last thing you want to do is injure yourself. Make a decision now, are you going to train in the morning? After Iftar? Make yourself accountable by setting the time.’

‘Let’s also enter Ramadan for the right reasons. Yes, you may lose weight, but that’s not what this is about. Enjoy the ride. It’s a celebration, we’re celebrating how fortunate we are, no matter where you are in life there are always opportunities to be grateful.’

Faisal’s 5 Top Tips for Working out During Ramadan

  • Limit cardio: If you are trying to maintain muscle mass, limit cardio to once or twice a week and do it after Iftar.
  • Lower the intensity: If you want to train before Iftar, train at a lower intensity or try something like a brisk walk.
  • Break your fasts light: If you want to continue with higher intensity workouts, try breaking your fasts on something light like coconut water and dates beforehand.
  • Train heavy before Suhoor: Heavy weight training is usually best saved for before Suhoor so you can refuel adequately within that golden hour.
  • Be Realistic: You may well lose some mass during Ramadan because it’s so hard to train at night, this is ok. If you maintain some training consistency, you’re on the right path. Don’t panic, focus on the internal health rather than the aesthetics.

Ramadan Workout Plan

When working out during Ramadan, it’s important to adjust workout intensity. Here is a workout from the Elite coach himself, with adjusted rest periods to ensure you can still exercise while fasting. Complete 5 rounds and rest 30 seconds or as much as needed between exercises and 60 Seconds or as much as needed between rounds.

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1) Close Grip Push-Ups x 30 Seconds

Hit the high plank position with your palms underneath you close together. Keep your core tight and bend your elbows to bring your chest to the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body as you push back up explosively.

ab exercises, ab workouts

2) Bear Crawl x 30 Seconds

Set up on all fours with your hands under your shoulders. Reach forward with one arm, advancing with your back leg on the opposite side. Repeat on your other side. Keep alternating, edging forward as quickly as possible, under control.

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3) Air Squats x 30 Seconds

Standing tall with your chest up and core tight, sink your hips back, bending your knees to drop your thighs until you reach a deep squat. Drive back up explosively and repeat.

ab exercises, ab workouts

4) Hollow Body Rock x 30 Seconds

Start lying down and push your back into the floor. Lift your legs off the floor and take your arms straight overhead. Hold the position and maintain the pressure of pushing your back down to keep your abs tight. Use momentum to rock the body under control.

This article was originally published on menshealth.com

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