Written by Aman Al-Haddad – 8/03/2012
Don’t weight: Ramadan is the perfect time to improve your health, training and eating habits.
It was the first day of Ramadan when I set a new personal record in my weightlifting and a lot of people may wonder how that is possible after a 15-hour fast?
Here’s my experience and tips on getting the most out of your training during The Holy Month.
Training in Ramadan
The goal for many who train in Ramadan is to reduce body fat to maintain or gain strength through preserving lean muscle mass. If you thought that was not possible during Ramadan, you thought wrong. However, it is important to be in possession of all the information.
There are two schools of thought regarding training times in Ramadan; post Iftar (the first meal after fast) or during the fasting period. Personally, as an athlete, I have had success in the past three years training a few hours after Iftar and have not had any dizzy spells, loss of strength or weight gain during Ramadan.
I find training after Iftar has many more benefits, with no risk to health. The benefits of training after Iftar – either by an hour or three – allows your body to have the right amount of hydration and nutrition before a training session, which will not effect performance.
While training before breaking one’s fast can further dehydrate muscles, and research indicates dehydrating a muscle by three per cent can cause 10 per cent loss in strength, muscle preservation has many good effects on body composition as it mainly increases our metabolism at rest. And this leads to continuous fat loss.
The alternative would be training pre-Iftar with the only advantage that you can eat several meals post workouts, so there is more time to replenish your system. Although training while fasting does burn fat due to the lack of glycogen in your system, your body also uses muscles for energy, so there is a risk of muscle loss.
However, you must be careful if you choose to train before breaking your fast, as there is an associated health risk with training while in a dehydrated state, leading to dizzy spells, which may increase the risk of injury while exercising.
It is important to listen to your body when training in Ramadan, not push yourself too hard or expect major changes, but, with the right plan you can expect improvements.
Strength training and Cardio
Strength training in Ramadan should be limited to an hour or less, with compound exercises that target more than one muscle group so you can get more bang for your buck from your training sessions. Exercises such as the squat, deadlift, military press, chest press, and rows, for example.
When it comes to cardiovascular training, it is best to limit cardio to two times per week with short but intense sessions that can be as short as 10 minutes and not longer than 30 minutes, which provides the benefits of muscle preservation and fat loss at the same time. The best time to do cardio would be before Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal.
Nutrition in Ramadan
Traditionally, Muslims break their fast with dates, just like prophet Mohammed (S.A.A.W) did. The wisdoms in Islam are many, and by breaking one’s fast with two or three dates with water, it quickly restores blood sugar and hydration.
Dates have a unique nutrient content, as they contain a high level of potassium, they have minerals and carbohydrates that enhance hydration, and contain glucose and fructose for improving short-term and long-term energy levels.
Research published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition concluded that “dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits”.
Following breaking the fast, meals for both Iftar and Suhoor should contain high-protein, high-fat content and complex carbohydrate sources, preferably post workout for optimum use of nutrients.
Avoid eating processed foods, fried, sugary foods, and bingeing at Iftar time as it could lead to digestion issues. It is essential to keep hydrating throughout the night, with at least two litres a day.
My experience in Ramadan this past week following the information provided has been nothing but an absolute success. Training at night after having had a high-protein, high-fat, with carb sources from veggies and fruits has given me the energy to continue my strength training without dealing with any dizzy spells or lethargy.
Ramadan is a time not only to increase your worship, but to look after your health and improve your eating habits, rather than bingeing.
Amna Al Haddad is a freelance journalist and the first Emirati and GCC national to compete in the Reebok Crossfit Games Asia Regionals. Her blog is www.999fitness.ae.