Depending on who you are and where you come from, Ramadan might be a big part of your life. The 30-day fast takes place during the Holy Month and prohibits food and drinks from dawn until the sun sets on the horizon.
Taking a month to fast might be great for people strictly interested in weight & fat loss, but does that much fasting mean you’re doomed to train sub-optimally and lose muscle mass?
The truth is, Ramadan can add a layer of challenge to your fitness journey because a lack of food and water puts stress on your body and forces you into a catabolic state. But, it doesn’t have to mean that you’ll lose your progress because all you need is some careful planning to make it work.
In today’s guide, we’ll go over absolutely everything you need to know about weight training, cardio, diet, planning, and supplementation for a healthy and productive Ramadan fast.
Let’s dive in.
How to Train During Ramadan
Can You Even Train During Ramadan?
The short answer is that you can and should stay active during Ramadan. Though it’s important to note that you’ll struggle to get enough energy, and your goals should be to stimulate rather than drive yourself straight into overtraining.
But what does that mean?
For one, you should accept that you probably won’t be setting new personal records in the next few weeks. Instead, you should focus on maintaining your fitness and staying active. Of course, you might choose to push yourself occasionally, especially if you feel energized after a fast. Some people do.
Second, it means that you should train three days per week. The frequency is ideal for most people because you’re still doing enough effective training, but it isn’t too much to get you over trained. Plus, three workouts allow you to recover for at least one day in-between, giving your muscles enough time to recuperate.
When Should You Train During Ramadan?
It would be best to train at your usual times in most cases. Your body has adjusted to that schedule, and you’re likely to perform at your best, even if you train fasted.
Alternatively, start working out an hour or two after eating. One option would be to work out after Sehri, your pre-dawn meal. Alternatively, train after Iftar, your evening, post-sunset meal.
How Long Should Workouts Be During Ramadan?
As briefly mentioned above, your goals during Ramadan shouldn’t be to improve your fitness but to maintain it. Don’t train for too long because that can impair your recovery and increase the risk of muscle loss. Instead, we recommend keeping your sessions to 45-50 minutes.
Can You Do Cardio During Ramadan?
Aside from asking if people can train during Ramadan, serious trainees often wonder if cardio is a good idea during the Holy Month.
Contrary to the answer we gave to the previous question, we would say no to cardio during Ramadan. While aerobic exercise can be the perfect addition to a good fitness plan, especially for people looking to lose weight, it might not be ideal during Ramadan.
There are two reasons for that:
- Like any form of exercise, cardio leads to fatigue that can impair your recovery and increase the risk of overtraining.
- Cardio burns calories, but the benefit isn’t necessary during Ramadan because most people will be in a significant calorie deficit because of their fasting.
Maybe HIIT Is Better Than Cardio During Ramadan?
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. Unlike cardio which consists of long and less demanding activities, HIIT is about performing short bursts of near-maximal effort. You then recover for up to a minute before doing another round.
The issue with HIIT is that it is pretty demanding and often takes longer to recover from, which can be problematic during Ramadan when calories are low. So, we recommend avoiding HIIT or limiting it severely.
Should You Instead Focus On Your NEAT?
Since we err on the side of avoiding cardio and HIIT during Ramadan, the next logical question you might have is, “Well, should I try to boost my NEAT then?”
To anyone unfamiliar, NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis and refers to the calories you expend from everyday tasks. Brushing your teeth, walking up a flight of stairs, running to catch the bus, and cleaning at home are examples of such activities.
The idea with NEAT is that moving more during the day helps you burn extra calories, making it easier to lose fat. But, as discussed above, Ramadan makes it incredibly difficult to consume many calories, so you’ll likely be in a calorie deficit even if you don’t move much during the day.
For example, let’s say that your daily caloric needs fall at around 3,000. Even if you eat 1,000 calories before dawn and another 1,000 after sunset, you’ll still be in a 1,000-calorie deficit, which is more than enough to lose weight rapidly. Increasing your caloric expenditure would lead to an even more aggressive calorie deficit, leading to issues like muscle loss and overtraining.
So, we recommend limiting your NEAT and going about your days as you usually do. Don’t go out of your way to burn extra calories because that won’t be necessary.
How to Eat During Ramadan
1. Track Your Food Intake
Ramadan features long periods of fasting, which can lead some people to believe they can eat whatever they want during their two daily meals. This isn’t necessarily so because some folks can eat a lot of food in a single sitting and more than make up for their fasting period.
For example, let’s say that you should eat around 2,500 calories per day to maintain your weight. If you eat 1,300 during Sehri and another 1,400 during Iftar, you will consume 2,700 total calories or 200 above what your body needs. As a result, you might fast for many hours of the day and still gain weight.
So, the best way to go about your nutrition is to keep track of your food intake and calories. That way, you’ll be much more aware of how much you’re eating and if it aligns with your goals. A simple app like MyFitnessPal can work. Alternatively, use a simple log where you write down what you eat and calculate your calories.
2. Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time
There is an old saying that goes, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It holds a lot of truth, especially regarding weight loss.
Planning your meals ahead of time is a fantastic way to ensure that you’re on track and able to maintain your results during Ramadan. You might even see improvements.
In contrast, leaving meals up to chance is the perfect recipe for disaster because you’re more likely to eat whatever seems tasty when you’re hungry, especially in the evening. It’s easy to binge eat after fasting for 12 or more hours, lying to yourself that you’ll repair that damage in the upcoming days by eating less.
By planning and preparing meals ahead of time, you ensure that you always have access to healthy meals. Do that, and you’ll go through Ramadan successfully.
3. On That Note, Prepare Meals Ahead of Time
Preparing meals ahead of time, also known as meal prepping, is a fantastic tactic for improving your eating habits, saving money, and staying on track with your fitness. Aside from planning what you’ll be eating every day of the week, taking the time to prepare multiple meals will help you track your calorie intake and resist the temptation of processed foods.
Here’s how to pull it off:
- Get clear on what meals you’ll be eating in the upcoming week.
- Put together a grocery list for the ingredients you’ll need to cook all the meals.
- Buy the groceries, including sauces, spices, and other things you might need.
- Set aside at least a couple of hours to cook the food.
- Once cooked, distribute the food into containers, let it cool, seal it off, and pop it in the fridge.
- Clean up after yourself and take a deep breath knowing that you’re set for the entire week.
Aside from saving time, meal prepping saves money because you can buy more things in bulk. Plus, the peace of mind is a fantastic bonus that makes it worth the effort.
We recommend starting with simpler, two-ingredient recipes to make the experience less overwhelming for newbies. It can be as basic as some meat with rice or veggies. A slow-cooker can make the experience even more straightforward because all you have to do is pop the ingredients in the device and leave it to simmer while you’re out and about.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Eat Out During Ramadan
You can still enjoy meals out with friends and family during Ramadan, but you should plan for it ahead of time. A good way to do so is to check the restaurant’s menu ahead of time and decide what you’ll have before you get there. Many restaurants post their menus online, and some even include nutritional information for various meals, making it easy for you to track your calories.
In any case, going with a basic protein source with veggies will make for a nutritious meal that fills you up without adding too many calories to your daily total. It’s best to avoid extras, such as fried onion rings, french fries, salad dressings, dessert, and sugary beverages, because they can add a lot of calories to your intake and derail you.
If the menu doesn’t offer the exact meal you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to ask for replacements. For example, even if there is no chicken with veggies on the menu, you can ask the server (assuming both foods are on the menu in some form). Most restaurants are happy to comply with the client’s wishes.
5. Don’t Forget to Re-Hydrate
Aside from not eating anything from dawn to sunset, Ramadan is about not drinking any water. So, as soon as the sun sets on the horizon, start drinking water to re-hydrate yourself. Doing so is particularly important if you sweat a lot, work a physically-demanding job, or exercise during the day.
Dehydration might not seem all that bad, but consider this:
You can last for weeks without any food, but only for around three days if you don’t drink any water. Plus, dehydration often leads to adverse effects, such as headaches, fatigue, brain fog, muscle cramps, poor mood, and more.
Men should aim for four or more liters of water per day, and women – at least three liters.
Sleep During Ramadan
Sleep’s importance for proper fat loss and muscle gain is well-documented in numerous studies. Sleeping well is vital for muscle protein synthesis, fat oxidation, athletic performance, well-being, cognition, motivation, and overall health.
Studies show that poor sleep can lead to accelerated muscle protein breakdown and an inability to lose fat. Similarly, lack of sleep is linked with poor muscle growth, even when people train well, eat enough protein, and remain in a calorie surplus.
Many of sleep’s effects on the body are linked to hormone levels. Sleep deprivation promotes cortisol secretion (the stress hormone) and can suppress testosterone, leading to unfavorable effects.
We recommend aiming for anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night. You can also include a nap during the day if you often stay up late during the Holy Month.
Supplementation During Ramadan
Eating well and sleeping enough are the two most important things you need for optimal fitness. But, certain healthy supplements can help, especially given that you’re fasting for many hours and getting dehydrated.
- Protein powder – a protein powder can help you get enough of the nutrient to support your training recovery, gym performance, and muscle mass.
- Magnesium – an essential mineral with crucial functions related to nervous system activity, testosterone synthesis, and more. Taking it can reduce the risk of muscle cramps due to dehydration and promote better sleep.
- Fish oil – a supplement that contains essential fatty acids that promote brain health, muscle repair, good vision, and much more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the best time to workout during Ramadan?
A. Start working out an hour or two after eating. One option would be to work out after Sehri, your pre-dawn meal. Alternatively, train after Iftar, your evening, post-sunset meal.
Q. What are the main reasons to not do cardio during Ramadan?
A. First reason is that cardio leads to fatigue that can impair your recovery and increase the risk of overtraining. Second reason is that cardio burns calorie, but the benefit isn’t necessary during Ramadan because most people will be in a significant calorie deficit because of their fasting.
Q. What is the importance of sleep during Ramadan?
A. Sleeping well is vital for muscle protein synthesis, fat oxidation, athletic performance, well-being, cognition, motivation, and overall health.