(Not Muslim, just supporting my sister; who is. This is my 4th year supporting her)
8/1/2011 – 8/29/2011
Every day during the month of Ramadan, Muslims around the world break their fast when the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib, is due. They eat before the sun comes up at a certain time and after a certain time during the night.
However I would like to think of it differently. Please note that these steps that I’m going to suggest works well for me, so it may not necessarily work as well for you. My best advice is to listen to your body. I also suggest for those who train, a good idea during fasting is to remain hydrated.
Now on to the good stuff “Should I train?” or not but rather what kind of workout and at what time I should do it. It is as straightforward as that. Some would doubt if cardio workouts are advisable since the body lacks water (fasting can make us dehydrated, symptoms are like fatigue, dizziness & headache). I would think of it differently, since the absence of glycogen due to fasting, and then the opportunity to burn some fat should not go to waste. The only thing that we should make sure is not to over strain and stop immediately if we feel light headed. If we time our workouts properly, i.e. few hours prior to breaking fast, we will be able to refuel shortly thereafter. We should avoid high impact sports during the day as we are not in the condition to endure performance sports. The other good time to workout is after breaking fast.
As for weight training, I would only do them after breaking fast. To draw rapid energy from what is already lacking will result in our body drawing energy from other muscle and if I were to do weights, I will make sure that I drown myself with a protein shake right after the workout. We should lose fat, not muscle instead. Some would disagree, but more protein can help to generate more muscle, and more muscle means more calories being used to maintain them, thus driving fat-loss into overdrive.
However if some of you decide not to train at all, you will definitely lose some size and strength just like the professional athletes who lose their stamina during an off season. The good thing is that we will regain it quickly if we work hard enough.
The key lesson here is simply to be smart. Listen to your body. If it tells you that it needs to rest, and then do what is right and do it smart.
The Keys to Success during Ramadan are:
1) Don’t use Ramadan as an excuse to not exercise. It is crucially important that you do some gym work over Ramadan as without it, and in the absence of a regular eating pattern, your metabolism will go on strike quicker than a NFL Players Union.
2) The best time to hit the gym during Ramadan is either early in the morning (after your first meal of the day) or after sunset (after your first meal post fasting.)
3) Ensure that both your Ramadan “breakfasts” (by breakfast I literally mean the two meals following a fast, one following sleep or opening the fast, the other following the day’s fasting) contain easily digested protein and, depending upon body composition goals, some complex carbs and essential fats. If you are due to follow one of these meals with a hard workout something like whey shake with essential fats, an apple and a handful of nuts would be great. I personally would wolf down 6 eggs, some coffee, and then go bang the weights – but not everyone could digest that and then train hard.
4) Unless you are feeling on top of the world I wouldn’t go seeking new personal bests in the gym during Ramadan. A good suggestion would be to switch up your routine from the norm, so that you don’t feel down in any way about a noticeable decrease in physical performance, and try to make the workouts as fun and varied as possible.
5) Workout duration during Ramadan should be kept very tight. Get in and out of the gym in less than one hour and preferably aim for 45 minutes of hard work. If you normally take much longer don’t worry, you can still get an awful lot done in 45 minutes and for those of you who are looking to gain muscle Ramadan is more about anti-atrophy workouts than super mega blasting hypertrophy!
6) During the time that you are allowed to drink you should be thinking “hydration, hydration, and hydration!” In past periods of Ramadan I have seen hardcore Muslim bodybuilders almost pass out as they tried to push themselves without drinking water. A good goal for a 200lb individual should be to try to down 96oz+ of water between sunset and sunrise.
7) Some people get into a little panic before Ramadan thinking that they will lose all their hard earned gains as it is impossible to benefit from good nutrition, supplementation and exercise during Ramadan. This isn’t so, and with a bit of organization and thought there is no reason to take a big step backwards. 4-5 meals over a 24 hour period are very possible, and this alone should be enough for maintenance, and maybe for the very lucky ones, even some small improvements. For example (and I may be slightly off in daylight times here so please forgive me), one could eat a large pre Ramadan fast meal at 5.45am, then break the Ramadan fast at 7.30pm, eat again at 9.30pm, and finally have a supper at 11.30pm. It isn’t ideal, but it does show you that your physique doesn’t have to come crashing down. If minimizing fat accumulation (or fat loss for the super ambitious) is your goal the mainstay of my macronutrients would be from protein and “good fats” (think unprocessed, natural fats and you won’t go far wrong).
8) There are also a few supplements that would definitely help ease the metabolic challenges of Ramadan.
My top ten Ramadan supplement picks would be:
Acetyl L Carnitine (3gms upon awakening)
Essential Amino Acids (snack on these as much as possible during the hours of darkness)
Greens Powder (add several tablespoons to a large bottle of water and sip constantly)
Casein Protein Powder (for supper)
Whey Protein Powder
Magnesium (at night to aid sleep)
A good digestive enzyme complex: Phosphatidylserine (at night before sleep to reduce any extra cortisol production caused by daytime fasting / and to aid sleep)
In summary, the discipline of Ramadan need not prevent proper nutrition, supplementation and exercise. Yes, it will be challenging and require both discipline and moderation, but that is obviously what part of the whole process is about.