Mike and Viv Addo aka MrandMrsMuscle are our contributing fitness and nutrition experts. Read the blog and find out more about fitness and nutrition related information and hot tips!
The holy month of Ramadan is a special time of year. A time for reflection, love, family and celebration. And while this month is a blessing for all, the act of fasting and maintaining a workout schedule presents a big challenge for so many.
Every year our inbox is inundated with questions about when to workout, what type of exercise to do, what foods to eat and how to lose weight safely during Ramadan? In truth, there is no one-plan-fits-all approach. Much of what you should do will depend on you, your current fitness routine and your goals. To make your planning easier, we have put together 5 steps that you should consider.
Step 1: Listen to your body
During the fasting period, our body goes through several changes. In the first 0-4 hours after eating, our body produces insulin which helps us turn our last meal into glucose – the body’s main energy source. Depending on our activity levels and energy demands after eating, we store what we don’t use as glycogen in our muscles and liver.
During the next 4-16 hours our body begins to breakdown that stored energy and turn it back into glucose for immediate use. It is during this phase that typically people (especially those that are not used to fasting frequently) will experience hunger pangs, low concentration, slight fatigue and low energy levels. When the absence of water and a change in sleeping patterns are also present, adjusting becomes very challenging.
We would recommend taking the first couple of days to focus on how you feel and if you are adapting quickly to your new eating and sleeping routine.
Step 2: Find a time that works for you
After using the first couple of days to adapt to fasting, you should start to become familiar with when your energy levels start to rise and fall. Are you more energetic before Iftar or generally between Iftar and Suhoor?
Before adding exercise into the mix you should consider answering the following:
- Do you usually exercise before or after eating?
- Do you sweat easily when exercising?
- Do you drink a lot of water when working out?
- How do you feel after workouts and how long does it take you to recover from muscle soreness?
Where possible, it is best to stick as close as you can to a routine that you usually follow and make subtle adjustments to factor in the fasting period. For example, exercising at least 20-30 minutes prior to Iftar or between Iftar and Suhoor makes it easier for you to rehydrate and replenish your body after exercise.
Step 3: Assess and adjust your goal(s) accordingly
The success of any fitness goal relies heavily on good quality sleep and nutrition and exercise programming. Your change in sleeping and eating times will mean that recovery from any intense exercise will take longer than usual, your stress and cortisol levels will naturally increase and energy demands on your body will be higher.
Our advice here would be to focus on maintaining the progress you have made prior to fasting rather than starting a new plan or pushing to new intensities. If you are new to exercise or do not have a regular exercise routine but would like to implement one during this time, then we suggest focusing more on low-impact strength workouts. The best time to do this would be between Iftar and Suhoor.
If weight loss is your fitness goal this Ramadan, then place more attention on the foods you eat to break your fast. Focus on high-fiber, starchy foods such as:
- Whole Grains
- Brown Rice
- Potatoes (with the skin)
- Green Vegetables
- Dried Nuts
These foods take longer to digest, slowly release energy throughout the day and keep your blood sugar levels lower. In addition, they promote greater insulin sensitivity (ideal for those looking to burn fat).
You should also add high-quality protein such as fish, meat, beans, milk, whey protein and yogurt. This will help regulate your metabolism, prevent/slow muscle breakdown during the fasting hours, reduce your cravings and keep you feeling satiated for long hours.
Naturally, if your goal is on packing on muscle, you should still eat in a calorie surplus with most of your calories coming from carbohydrates, and consider higher levels of protein and BCAAs to really preserve as much muscle as possible.
Step 4: Create and stick to a simple workout plan
Keep your plan simple. It is more motivating, less stressful and easier to focus on following a simple workout plan. Here are some things to consider when putting your plan together:
- Exercise: Stead State Cardio
- Intensity: Low–Moderate
- Best time to perform: Any time
Steady state cardio is great for our circulation, gets oxygen to our muscles quickly, helps with recovery, aids in digestion and can have a positive effect on our energy levels. Our cardio recommendations would be to go for a brisk walk, use the treadmill, cycle or use an elliptical machine.
- Exercise: HIIT
- Intensity: High
- Best time to perform: Between Iftar and Suhoor
We don’t recommend HIIT for everyone during Ramadan. It is taxing on the body, has a higher rate of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and will have you burning through your calories long after your workout is finished. The key to maximizing its benefits this month will come from choosing the time that you do the workout. We would recommend breaking your fast as per normal with something light and very hydrating and then doing a short HIIT workout (10-20 minutes) before having a full-on post-workout meal.
- Exercise: Strength / Weight Training
- Intensity: Low–Moderate
- Best time to perform: Just before Iftar / Shortly before Suhoor
Strength training is one of the best ways to preserve your muscle and keep your metabolism fired up during this holy month. You should focus on using moderate weights/ resistance and build your strength by slowing down your movements, increasing your time under tension and taking longer rest periods between exercises.
Step 5: Prioritize good quality sleep
While this may be challenging due to the excitement, festivities and family gatherings each night. Squeezing in as many hours of good quality shut-eye is important. You can make this easier by not overeating during Iftar, reducing your sugar and caffeine intake, minimizing heavy and fried foods and leaving a few hours between eating and sleeping. Where possible, try to sleep at roughly the same time (give or take a few minutes difference) each night. The high-quality sleep will help you metabolize cortisol, increase your recovery time, regulate your mood and make your fasting experience easier with each day.
Ramadan is a special time of pure reflection, gratitude and love, so please do remember to be kind not just to others but to yourself. The above steps will make staying fit this month a lot easier, however, listening to your body should remain priority.
Really double down on increasing your hydration between Iftar and Suhoor. You can do this by having high water content-based fruits and vegetables such as cucumber, watermelon, oranges, avocado, tomatoes and apples. In addition, it is extremely important to pay close attention to signs of serious dehydration during the day. If you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous or experience an increased heart rate, then really pull back on any physical exertion or activity and seek medical advice.
We would like to wish all of you celebrating Ramadan a very blessed and very safe month.
Have an amazing rest of the week and see you in the next post!
Mike and Viv