Ramadan begins next week, a month long celebration of worship and practices in self-discipline, self-restraint, reflections on faith, love, and empathy, and of course as is most commonly known, it is a month of fasting. With such a major disruption to your normal eating and sleeping patterns, it can be struggle to perform just your daily activities let alone physical exertions like training. What should you eat? How best to stay hydrated? Can you train and do you need to change how you train? Read on to learn some great tips on how to eat, sleep, and train during Ramadan.
This is only my 2nd year of experience with Ramadan, not in celebrating it myself, but in helping some of my clients get through this period and helping to minimise the effect that fasting has on their daily performance as well as their body compositions.
During Ramadan fasting begins at sunrise and ends at sunset where no food or water can pass your lips. For those who are a fan of intermittent fasting you might think that that’s pretty doable with an 18:6 fast to feeding windows, but the reality is brutal. Daylight fasting means not eating or drinking, (basically fuelling) during the waking hours and for most people a full working day. And then during the short 6 hour evening feeding window it’s a hard choice between refuelling with food and necessary sleep!
Some of the things my clients have told me that they would typically experience during and after Ramadan include:
Last year I promised my clients that I would help them get through Ramadan with more energy, help them to maintain some of their strength and fitness, and come out the other side looking and feeling better than they have ever done after Ramadan. It was a big promise but I was confident that with some good coaching I could help them. And we definitely achieved it. One of my clients actually came out of Ramadan stronger than when he started and with minimal increase in bodyfat!
So let me share with you the basic principles we followed and my top tips to smashing Ramadan this year.
1. AVOID JUNK FOOD AND CHOOSE NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS
Highly processed foods, fried foods, cakes, ice cream, sweets etc may be just what you’ve been craving and dreaming about all day, and though these foods will be higher in calories which may provide you with much needed calories, they may not be the most nutrient dense foods, nutrients that your body is in desperate need of for healthy function and performance. In addition these foods may cause uncomfortable bloating which then limits how much you can eat during your short feeding window. So there is a danger of both overeating on bad calories which can lead to weight gain, and at the same time cause under-eating as you can’t eat more than you need to, resulting in very low energy and decreased health. Instead try to eat whole food meals containing good protein, healthy fats, unrefined carbs, and lots of green vegetables
2. AVOID UNDER-EATING
Though you may typically only be able to eat 2 meals during your feeding window try to match the number of calories you would normally eat in a normal day to avoid too high a calorie deficit. But obviously get your calories from good food sources! Taking a digestive enzyme with your meals can help you feel less stuffed so you can be ready to eat again at the next meal.
3. PRIORITISE PROTEIN
Protein (which breaks down into amino acids) are the body’s most important resource, aside from helping to build muscle and tissue, amino acids are crucial for numerous biochemical processes that include detoxification, the production and conversions of hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters etc. My typical protein recommendations for active clients is 1.6-2g per kg of bodyweight. Ensure adequate protein with every meal and supplement your protein intake with the use of protein shakes (provided they don’t make you feel bloated) or as I prefer, amino acids drinks.
4. HYDRATE WITH ELECTROLYTES
There is only so much liquid you can drink in such a short time frame so maximise your hydration by adding electrolytes to your water. For my clients I recommend that every liquid they drink during this time should either contain electrolytes, amino acids, or greens powders for extra boost in phytonutrients, and never just water alone. This can also satisfy sweet cravings as they generally tend to be fruity flavoured.
5. SLEEP AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN (NO BRAINER)
Sleep after the first morning prayers when fasting begins before having to start your day. Sleep when you’ve finished work and before fasting ends and you have first meal. If you can get time off work or start work later/finish work earlier, spend that time sleeping! The fewer fasted hours you are awake for the easier your day and the more rested you’ll feel.
6. DECREASE YOUR TRAINING TIME AND VOLUME OF WORK
Training during Ramadan should not be about reaching for fitness goals but purely maintenance of what you have. In such a fasted state your body is already suffering higher levels of catabolism (breakdown) and excessive training will increase it, you also won’t have enough fuel for any kind of maximal effort. Instead train 2-3 times a week with shorter workouts and fewer sets and reps without pushing to fatigue. Avoid overexerting and overheating as you may not have the strength and fuel to sustain and won’t be able to quench your thirst.
7. TRAIN WHEN YOU ARE FUELLED
Train only after you have fuelled and hydrated. This will mean either a late night workout after you’ve broken your fast (if your gym is open or home training), or as soon as you can after your last meal so you still have some sustenance. Do not train any later during the fasted period. Low hydration levels leaves your joints vulnerable to injury which are more likely to occur as you try to train with lower levels of energy and focus.
The above guide isn't perfect and I cant say that my clients didn't still struggle during the month or even stick to eating the right foods. But they have definitely preferred having some kind of plan and idea of how best to cope, rather than winging it as they have done in the past. I hope you too can benefit from this guide and eat, sleep, and train well during Ramadan.