Exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be challenging at the best of times, and it can be even harder during Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink between dawn and sunset for 30 days. Fortunately, exercise and fasting can go together without causing any harm to the body.
According to Ahmed Madkour, Fitness Manager at Fitness First Middle East, during the fasting period, sensible and low intensity exercise can help elevate energy levels, improve physical fitness, build muscle and joint strength, and boost body composition. It can also help control weight, ensuring the body stays healthy and strong.
With more people around the world becoming health conscious and looking to develop a safe training regime during Ramadan, Ahmed Madkourshares his best exercises to try, workouts to avoid and the optimum time of the day to exercise during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Fuel your body.
If you plan to exercise during Ramadan, it is crucial to fuel your body with the right food. Before or after training always top up your depleted energy (glycogen) stores by consuming carbohydrates. Choose health options such as vegetables and wholegrain alternatives like pasta and rice, and add protein for muscle repair, like lean meats, lentils, or protein shakes.
Schedule your training
During Ramadan, it is ideal to train right before Iftar or 1-2 hours after Iftar. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice solely depends on personal preference.
Training before Iftar in a fasted state might sound challenging but most people do enjoy it, especially after the initial couple of days of training. The body gets used to training in a fasted state and develops mental focus and intensity tolerance. This is due to insulin levels lowering during fasting which leads to the production of more neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help you focus better and intensify your workouts, while utilising stored fats more efficiently during the workouts.
Fasted training (before Iftar) also leads to better partitioning of nutrients which are consumed during Iftar. After a full day of fasting, followed by a training session, the body will be hungry for nutrients, therefore consumed carbohydrates will be easily stored as muscle glycogen and proteins will quickly go to the damaged muscle fibres to kick-start repair and growth.
Training after Iftar in a fed state is another ideal time to schedule in training but it requires careful planning. Many people feel more energised to train after eating compared to when they are fasting. If you are one of those people, consider exercising after breaking your fast: have a small snack such as water, dates, and fruit then carry out a quick 20–30-minute workout, followed by dinner with family.
TIP: If Iftar in your household is combined with dinner, realistically you may not have time to exercise until 10pm. If you are a person who feels more sluggish after Iftar and have difficulty sleeping after intense training sessions in the evening, then try switching to fasted training before Iftar.
Start resistance training.
If any form of exercise is the best to do in Ramadan, it is resistance training. Resistance training can be done using either free weights or your own bodyweight. All compound movements like squats, lunges, step-ups, dead-lifts, pulling and pushing, and exercises like rows, pull-ups, push-ups, and presses are the best to carry out when performing resistance training.
During the Holy Month, the body will most likely be in a catabolic state, making it easy to lose muscle mass and feel weak. This type of training will help preserve vital muscle mass, strength, improve hormone profile (testosterone, cortisol, insulin, growth hormone) and improve the emotional state by producing happy hormones called endorphins.
Resistance training can also help with borderline diabetes, as it improves insulin sensitivity and stabilises blood sugar levels by increasing the size of muscle cells and number of insulin receptors, making them more available for carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen.
TIP: All these movements can be done with your own bodyweight at home. If you have free weights like dumbbells or kettle bells, then add resistance to these movements to make them harder. If you are without weights, improvise by adding resistance in the form of heavy bags, heavy water bottles or suitcases. Make sure to keep the total training time to 40-45 minutes.
Avoid high intensity cardio.
While fasting, avoid high intensity cardio or high intensity circuit training. This form of training relies heavily on stored glycogen as an energy substrate, which is not readily available due to prolonged fasting. The absence of adequate amounts of glycogen can lead to loss of muscle mass, as protein is converted to glucose, via the process of gluconeogenesis to support quick energy demands. Additionally, this form of training leads to more sweating, resulting in loss of water and electrolytes – which is not ideal during Ramadan.