Every year without fail I get approached and asked the same thing.
“ How can I workout and eat properly during Ramadan?”
The concern is valid. You found a workout routine and schedule that works for you and have been seeing great progress with it but now you have to adjust or put it on hold for 30 days because you’re going to be fasting. You have dinner parties to attend, still have to go to school or work everyday, and the seasonal sweets are around every corner (it’s hard to resist a good katayif)!
The idea can be unsettling, nobody wants to stop working toward their goals, but I have good news for you!
Ramadan doesn’t have to ruin your fitness progress!
Whether you’re trying to slim down or add some muscle mass, there’s a way to continue to progress toward either goal! The process is actually simpler than you might think, but for both goals it comes down to one thing:
Proper planning and execution!
I’m going to share with you the best ways to attack the month but all of the information is useless if you aren’t actively taking action on the plan! Because if you don’t have a plan, then you’re just planning to fail. Period. Once you finish up with this blog I’d suggest taking the time to outline a realistic plan that’ll work with your schedule,
One last point before we get started though; it’s important to remember that Ramadan is more than just fasting for hours on end and waiting to have your first meal of the day at sundown, it’s about connecting with yourself and those closest to you. Ramadan only happens once a year – albeit for 30 days at a time – this is a time to enjoy guest dinners, spend time with family, and reflecting inward. Finding balance between the spiritual side of Ramadan and your fitness and nutrition goals are going to be key here.
Now without further adieu, let’s dive in and start the process!
What Is Fasting & What Happens While You’re Fasting
For those of you unaware, fasting is the act of restricting calories for extended periods of time in an attempt to have your body burn through its energy reserves. However, with certain fasting practices – such as intermittent fasting – you still have the opportunity to drink 0 calories beverages, like water or black coffee; but with Islamic fasting you must abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
Fasting is seen by your body as a form of stress that it needs to adapt and overcome. Your body will recognize this imposed stress and adapt accordingly to better position itself for optimal functionality and general survival.
As you go about your first few days of fasting your liver will run through its glycogen reserves and will have to find a new way to produce the energy needed to survive. This is when your body will flip a metabolic switch and your cells will start using fats and ketones for energy until your glycogen levels are replenished.
Your body will also adapt to this stress by putting itself on an “energy saving mode”. The same way you’ll switch your phone to energy saver mode so that it only runs the most important programs and apps with the battery power it has left your body will do the same. Your body accomplishes this by lowering your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) so that it runs more efficiently by using less calories to approve the various behind the scenes functions and processes that it goes through daily. This’ll come in many forms, such as: lowering your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and other subconscious forms of energy reservation like blinking less frequently, talking with your hands less, sitting/leaning on things more than standing, or fidgeting less.
These adaptations will ultimately lower your caloric expenditure (burned calories) as your body copes with the imposed stress of fasting. This will also lead you to feeling more hunger in the early part of Ramadan and feeling more lethargic or drained. Once your body properly adjusts and realizes that this is going to last more than a couple days you will like experience a burst of energy and mental clarity as it acclimates itself to the month.
What You Need To Focus On
So how does this affect you and your goals?
Some adjustments need to be made to accommodate the changes your body will be experiencing as it adapts to fasting. While I’ll be suggesting what might be best for you based on my knowledge, experience, and research, I also suggest that you experiment with different approaches (like training times) to figure out what you prefer most and also fits your schedule best.
Laid out below are all the variable that you need to be mindful of in order to maximize your results this Ramadan.
This is without a doubt the most important factor in changing your body composition at any point in time regardless of your goal. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that 75-90% of body composition change comes down to energy balance (Calories in vs. Calories out).
If your goal is fat loss then you want to be in a caloric deficit, meaning that you will be consuming less calories than you are burning. If you are looking to gain mass then you should be in a caloric surplus. The trick now is to fit in the ideal calorie amount for you (if you’re not sure what that is you can click here and find out!) between Maghrib and Fajr.
It’s no different than any other day, you just have less time to fit those calories in. However, it’s important to account for the fact that your body is adjusting to fasting by lowering your BMR which means that you need to adjust your calories accordingly as well.
For instance (and this is a simplified example), if prior to fasting your BMR was 2500 cal/day and you were consuming 2500 cal/day then, in theory you would maintain weight. However, if your BMR downregulates to, let’s say, 2000 cal/day and you continue consuming 2500 cal/day then you’ll be on track to gain 1 pound per week of Ramadan.
While there’s no way to know exactly how much your BMR has adjusted a good rule of thumb that I have found success with is reducing your daily caloric intake by 300-500 per day to make up for the change.
Protein is an essential nutrient to your body and needs to be prioritized over all other macros as a result. Odds are, you’ll have more than enough carbs and fat served for iftar so it’s important to make the extra effort to fulfill your protein needs – which more often than not gets overlooked during Ramadan.
If we’re looking to maintain all of our muscle gain and reduce fat it’s important to feed our muscles. Protein also has a high Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) which means that it takes a lot of extra calories to digest. So simply making the effort to consume more protein will lead to extra caloric expenditure in the day. Protein should be a priority for either fat loss or muscle gain as a result.
Typical protein requirements will vary from person to person but usually you should try to fall within the range of 0.8 – 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weight 100 pounds you should look to have somewhere between 80g – 120g of protein daily. If you find this difficult to keep up then supplementing a protein powder will be helpful.
With all the focus on food it’s easy to forget to drink enough water! Your body needs water for virtually every metabolic process that occurs. A quick tip to fitting in enough water is to drink a full glass as soon as Maghrib hits so you have a head start in your feeding window and also a full glass just before Fajr to maintain hydration throughout the day. Keeping yourself hydrated will also help with the poor digestion and “fasting breathe” that is so often experienced during Ramadan.
Aim for 0.5 – 1.0 ounces per pound of bodyweight for optimal hydration. If you also plan on training during Ramadan I would definitely aim for the higher end of the spectrum here.
NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)
As we discussed earlier, your body is going to be running on energy saver mode while fasting. So that means you’ll be burning less calories since you’ll be subconsciously moving around less frequently as a result.
Now, I won’t be telling to you to blink more often – even though that would be funny to see everyone blinking really fast all the time – but simply making an effort to walk more while you are fasting will make a huge difference with your fat loss goals. Also trying to do simple activities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or opting to stand instead of sit will help you burn more calories as you go about your day.
If you have a step tracker I would suggest aiming for 6,000 – 10,000 daily steps to maximize your fat loss goals.
This is where the fun begins.
Optimizing your training time and adjustments will primarily revolve on your desired goal but personal preference will also play a part as well.
Training For Fat Loss
If your goal is fat loss, it would be optimal for you to train in the 90-120 minute window prior to iftar. This will prompt your body to use more fat for energy while training since you will have been in a prolonged fasted state.
However, as a result of fasting you will experience a drop in blood sugar and this will effect your performance while training. To account for this you’ll also want to modify your training regimen to avoid high intensity activity. This means avoiding any explosive movements – jumping, plyometric exercises, etc. – and not lifting at sub-maximal loads (a weight close to your max for the number of reps you are doing) for any of your core compound lifts – barbell bench press, deadlifts, back squats, etc.
The same principle will apply to your cardio training as well. You will want to avoid/limit fast sprints or HIIT type workouts and instead implement a MISS (moderate intensity steady state) or LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio regimen for your workout.
Training For Gaining Mass
The core principles of gaining muscle mass revolve around the ideas of high volume training and mechanical tension imposed on the muscle. Your ability to do this effectively and at a high level becomes significantly hindered while fasting so, other than cardio, I would avoid training before Iftar time so that you can get the most out of your results. Instead, I would suggest you train 90-120 minutes after you finish Iftar.
From there, I would continue following through with your Pre-Ramadan training routine and fueling properly afterwards.
If training after Iftar is not an option and you can only train before Iftar, then the same idea of fat loss will apply, you will want to avoid explosive movements or lifting at submaximal loads for any of your core lifts. In order to account for this, I would increase your training volume so that you are doing more sets per muscle group throughout the week.
Again, part of this will come down to your personal preference and how you feel while lifting at the various times. Although the suggestions I outlined for you above are optimal for the outlined goals, training at any capacity is still better than not training at all. Experiment with what works best for your body and your schedule so that you can make the most out of your training this Ramadan!
If you would like to into greater depth about the best plan for you specifically just follow this link to get the guidance you need
Heid, Markham. “What Is Intermittent Fasting And Does It Actually Work?” Time, Time, 1 Aug. 2018, time.com/5354498/is-intermittent-fasting-healthy/.
Templeman, Iain, et al. “The Role of Intermittent Fasting and Meal Timing in Weight Management and Metabolic Health.” The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 26 Apr. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31023390/?i=2&from=intermittent%2Bfasting%2Band%2Bweight%2Bloss.
“The Stages of Fasting: What Happens To Your Body When You Fast?” Dr. Group’s Healthy Living Articles, 25 Aug. 2017, www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/stages-of-fasting-what-happens-when-you-fast/.