It’s that that time of the year again. Ramadan is fast approaching with the same questions waiting to be asked about training and nutrition. With nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world, there are amongst us many Muslim athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and bodybuilders. All of us will be enduring a hot and long Ramadan this year in the midst of July. The biggest question for us all is how to go about obeying Allah (s.w.t.) while still maintaining our yearly physical and athletic goals? Here’s my Ramadan Workout & Nutrition Tips
The first reminder: Obedience to Allah ()
Remember we are first and foremost Muslim which means we are obedient to Allah (). Practising our deen comes before anything else in this world and the next life, the akhira is our ultimate goal not this temporary dunya. It is Allah () who gave us life and sustains us as he is Al-Raziq (the sustainer). The muscles we have are by the grace of Allah () not by our own efforts alone. That which Allah () gives, He can take and likewise give back. Live this life while you’re here, but likewise don’t feel prideful of what you have as this life has an end.
Ibn ‘Umar said, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, took hold of my shoulders and said, ‘Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller on the road.’ Ibn ‘Umar used to say, ‘In the evening, do not anticipate the morning, and in the morning do not anticipate the evening. Take from your health for your illness and from your life for your death.”[al-Bukhari]
It may seem like a physical set back for 1 month but remember there are 11 months in the year where inshAllah you can go all out hardcore and kill weights at the gym making all kinds of progress. It is suppose to be a month where you detoxify your body and more importantly your soul. It is a month where you train your heart, mind and soul for the rest of the year. Most importantly it is a month of immense rewards and a privilege to do ibadah (worship).
Remember Ramadan is a great time to make du’a and it only comes once a year. It’s not a joke, I literally make du’a for everything all year long even for my physical success. Who is it that will grant me anything but Allah ()? And who is it that can avert any harm or prevent any harm or provide any kind of success in this world or the next but Allah ()? So make great use and take great care of the month of Ramadan.
The second reminder: The Challenge vs Our Ease of Living
Think about our ease of life. What may seem like a difficult task is not difficult at all if you have faith (iman) and sabr (patience). Remember that the prophet () and the sahaba had no air conditioning or heating while enduring hot days and cold nights of the desert. They went through famines, persecution, oppression, sanctions, lack of food, lack of water, the need to grow and hunt their own food while coping with dangerous wild beasts.
Today for the grand majority of us, we have clean water available on tap plus the ability to chose the amount and temperature. Food is readily available at shopping markets while our homes are climate controlled and safe from wild beasts and danger.
Don’t Stop Working Out
The first and most important advice I’m going to give is to continue training and to not stop. Your body will retain muscle mass for as long as it feels there is a stimulus and need. When you stop exercising your body will slowly start disposing of what it feels is an unnecessary impediment costing extra energy. Maintaining muscles requires calories/energy and a stimulus need. During Ramadan you should strive to preserve what you have by continuing to train. Organizing yourself and your schedule will be the key to success in Ramadan training.
Ramadan In Summer vs Winter
Ramadan in winter months is easy. You start the fast later and you end the fast earlier. Sleep, food, dehydration and time are less of a challenge. It is the only time someone has adequate time to eat and train to gain muscle mass while still fasting. However the purpose of Ramadan is as a month of fasting and I advise everyone to treat it as such. Focusing on bulking shouldn’t be your priority. Detoxification of your heart, mind, soul and body are.
Ramadan in summer on the other hand is obviously much more difficult with the fast and daylight lasting longer. You will have less time to eat, drink, sleep and train. The heat will induce nausea and dehydration. Your goal during Ramadan in summer should be to maintain and unavoidably cut. Expect strength and muscle mass to be lost but have a positive outlook as you will lose fat. Your performance will not be the same as during winter Ramadan. Your goal should be to physically maintain what you have. Frequency and timing of eating and training between breaking the fast and starting the fast are key.
Optimize yourself from feeling drained
After a long day of fasting your carbohydrate and glycogen reserves will be totally depleted. Carbohydrates are what let you work out with intensity. More than likely you will be broken down after the long hours of fasting in summer. Ideally if possible fit in a nap right after work and wake up before maghrib without missing ‘asr. The large release of growth hormone from fasting and sleep alongside the increased insulin sensitivity from not eating all day long and the quick absorption of all the food when breaking the fast will totally rejuvenate you and freshen you up while giving you the most optimal muscle density and pump.
Remember you get ajr (you are rewarded) even while you sleep in Ramadan Getting that rest will give you the opportunity to stay up longer, thus train, worship and still go back to sleep to get further rest before fajr. Adjust your timings and plan accordingly.
Work Schedule flexibility
Let me first state that working out before breaking your fast in a fasted state is a terrible idea. I know some people advocate this idea but I am strongly of the opposing opinion. In summer you will more than likely end up being far too catabolic, dehydrate, pass out and end up in the hospital if you do this. It’s not optimal or healthy.
Morning work schedule
If you are working in the morning take my nap advice. You should try to fit in a workout sometimes between maghrib and isha or after isha. In other words a one to three hour period after iftar is when you should feel replenished and ready to go.
Afternoon work schedule
If you are like me working in an afternoon to evening shift, there is even more room for flexibility. Normally what I do is get up for dhur and head out straight to work with my iftar ready in my bag. I will break my fast and pray maghrib at work, if isha is later I may pray at the masjid straight from work or if I can’t make it for isha at the masjid I will head home and pray isha at home. I will then have my preworkout, shake and water ready and head straight to the gym. After gym I will eat and either go home and watch islamic lectures/do ibadah or go for night prayers then come home and eat. I will stay up all the way until fajr and watch islamic lectures/do ibadah and then eat prior to starting the fast, pray fajr and then go to sleep.
Night-shift work schedule
If you are working in a night shift setting, then depending on the timing of your work you just might be in an unfavourable situation. As far as food is concerned this should not be a concern as you can have it any time during the night — you have a huge time window for eating. Performing some form of ibadah while you work may be easier too. As far as working out goes, this depends on your flexibility and location of your gym. If you can squeeze it in during a one hour lunch or if you have a time frame between maghrib and isha or after isha available to you before work starts.
Before fajr alternative workout
Last but not least, another alternative option under any of the above circumstances is to work out right before fajr and before your final suhoor meal.
If you work mornings, you did your ibadah, you might have even taken an afternoon nap, you prayed maghrib and isha, had your meals and slept. Then you have the ability to wake up before fajr to workout.
If you work afternoons instead of doing everything after maghrib and isha you also have the option of doing a workout before fajr.
If you work night-shift, if you have an opportunity and flexibility to take a lunch break before fajr you may fit a workout in there.
A bit of flexibility exists no matter what situation you are in, you just must plan ahead of time.
The first nutritional tip I want to give ahead of time is prepare yourself. I would advise everyone to gradually decrease their calories so that they do not crash when Ramadan starts. I normally eat a lot of food year round, one of the reasons I chose to cut right before ramadan this year was to prepare myself mentally and physically. One of my past mistakes which happened during last year’s Ramadan was going from an all out bulk straight into Ramadan. I ended up losing 17lbs and this was not just fat and water either. Not planning is planing to fail.
Secondly, Ramadan is no excuse to go all out and eat sugar and junk. A lot of traditional foods are heavy in greasy fats, oils and sugars. This is the norm served by most Muslims during iftar. Getting carried away trying to make up for a long day of fasting is a quick way of getting fat and unhealthy even during Ramadan. This is just wrong. You have some lenience with sugars since you’ll be glycogen depleted, but going overboard will just make you sick and beat the whole point of fasting as well as improving your insulin sensitivity. A few dates alone as per sunnah will be sufficient to replenish glycogen levels for most people.
Excess consumption of sugars induces insulin resistance and insulin crashes (nausea/sleepiness/lack of energy). Eating junk will make you feel sick to not only workout but to perform ibadah. Remember how the prophet (saw) advised us how to eat and drink in moderation and with control.
Just as you should avoid processed foods, sugary junk, oily foods, genetically modified foods and fried foods throughout the year, you should also avoid them during Ramadan. Culture and tradition are no excuse for lack of health education. Just because we are raised with certain foods does not mean we should continue to indulge in them if we care for our own health, physique and athletic performance. You should continue to eat clean throughout the whole year and only adjust the frequency, quantity and timing of your meals during Ramadan. It’s not hard, just think of how much you eat normally and reschedule those smaller meals into larger less frequent meals in the time frame that you have during the non-fasted hours.
My own example VS your own
As far as what you need to do exactly for yourself individually, I must tell you there is no magic cookie cutter formula. The best result will be with you yourself working out a plan based on what you already eat, what your needs are, how you workout and what your schedule and plan is. Through experience you will figure out and adjust exactly according to what works for you. A lot of people expect me to write for them a step by step cookie cutter example of what they should eat during Ramadan as if everyone is expected to eat the exact same amount of food. I can’t, because the amount of food I need to maintain is going to be different than the next person. What I can suggest are types of healthy foods, but the amount will depend person to person. My best advice is for you to reshuffle what you already eat in the time frame that you have. Frequency, quantity and volume are key.
If I eat right now exactly: 4 whole meals which equate to a meal including 250g of grilled chicken breast, 150g cooked brown rice and a salad. I will reshuffle and split into 2 larger meals that include: 300g grilled chicken breast, 300g cooked brown rice and salad. With added protein scoops as beverage. This way I’ll be able to get about the same amount of calories and cover my protein and carb intake.
You will essentially eat a larger meal rather than smaller meals but still about the same, probably less than what you normally do.
Food choices proteins and carbs
One thing to keep in mind during Ramadan is your choice of foods and their times of consumption. Like with the previous above advice, most cultural and traditional foods tend to be high in fried, oily or greasy carbohydrates, fats and not necessarily high in protein. Keeping protein intake is very important.
When breaking your fast, quickly absorbing proteins and carbohydrates are ideal especially when you plan to work out. You are depleted so whatever you eat will be quickly absorbed due to the heightened insulin sensitivity and your depleted state. It’s the same way as when eating post workout. Your body absorbs quickly. Shakes blended with carbs and protein can be convenient but they are not an excuse not to eat whole meals.
One of the Sunnahs of breaking the fast is eating dates and water first thing. The beauty of Islam is that when we obey Allah () and the messenger () we reap so many rewards that we don’t even realize. We know today that dates are rich in nutrients unique to enhancing hydration. Dates are rich in potassium and extremely ideal for replenishing glycogen levels quickly. An amazingly ideal food for the perfect time. I normally consume dates pre-workout for good muscle pumps year round.
When approaching fajr and before starting your fast the most ideal foods are slowly absorbing foods and foods that slow down digestion so that you feel a sense of fullness and the energy is long lasting. Casein (slow absorbing) protein and complex (slowly absorbing) carbs are ideal. I personally stock up on casein protein powder and make a thick shake alongside my meal but cottage cheese for example is a great food to indulge in as it’s high in casein protein. Cottage cheese is normally eaten by bodybuilders at night to have an abundance of protein while you sleep and don’t eat.
One last tip, avoid additional sodium, excess salt will dehydrate you which is also something you want to try to avoid. When cooking try not to add in extra. Learn to read the labels of the foods you consume.
In conclusion, you should keep your protein intake as high sa possible, breaking the fast, during and post-workout fast protein and carbs are ideal. To keep you going during the fast slow absorbing complex carbs and casein are your ideal types of food.
Lower training volume but train with high intensity
During Ramadan you shouldn’t train longer than 40 minutes to an hour. You should lower your number of sets and your volume of exercises while focusing on preserving your strength. Focus on heavy compound movements that hit every muscle nice and quick. Intensity is key and not high volume as high volume training requires lots of food, water and rest which is not a luxury you have during Ramadan. Remember you are not trying to build muscle and train like a bulking bodybuilder for hypertrophy. In Ramadan you are trying to preserve everything through a quick shot of time with compound movements. Hit it hard, do it with intensity, get it done and get out. Intensity is key.
I strongly urge everyone against cardio during Ramadan as you are already fasting and burning calories with weights. If you really must do a cardio workout and your heart is set on it, limit it to twice a week of 10 minute of high intensity cardio. HIT cardio will stimulate hormones and chemicals that in turn will help with fat burning and muscle building/preservation. As my usual saying goes, unless you want to look and be as weak and frail as a marathon runner, NO crazy cardio. Cardio will also further dehydrate you which is the last thing you want during summer Ramadan.
If you don’t already carry a jug of water or water bottles during your workouts, this is the time to make it a permanent habit. During my normal workouts outside of Ramadan I easily consume 2.5liters of water. I can’t remember my last Ramadan’s water consumption during workouts but I am pretty sure it was greater than my regular workout consumption.
Water is important, dehydration causes catabolism (breakdown of muscle) and muscle after all is heavily made up of water. Water is necessary for life, cell function, organs, your brain and more. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, and even the bones are watery: 31%. Water helps digest our food so it can provide us with energy, it helps to transport waste out of the body, and it is important in controlling body temperature. Fasting in Ramadan and especially during summer will dehydrate you. Load up on water ahead of time.
I hope inshAllah some of my workout and nutrition tips have been useful. I tried to cover every reminder I could remember myself relevant to working out and nutrition during Ramadan. Prepare yourself inshAllah and be ready for Ramadan as there are only about two weeks remaining!
May Allah () make this a fruitful, successful and easy Ramadan for us all. AMEEN!
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