There’s no doubt that Ramadan during the long hot summer months can be challenging, with longer fasts and shorter opportunities for eating that can leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Your nights are shorter too, which can cause sleep deprivation that can also negatively impact both your eating habits and your exercise schedule.
But there are steps you can take to mitigate these challenges and get the most from your workouts – within reason. Ramadan is not the time to up your workout schedule or learn a new skill or sport, but it should be possible to try and maintain your fitness levels, practice your form, and burn off some of the excess food you may consume.
Here are some simple tips to help you stay fit and healthy this Ramadan:
Listen to Your Body
When it comes to keeping fit, you should always be listening to your body, but this becomes even more important when you’re fasting. Some experts recommend not working out at all during the first few days of Ramadan to allow your body to get acclimatized to your new regimen, or practice small fasts in the run-up to the month.
If your fitness levels are already high, working out during this month may not be a problem for you, but it’s still important to let your body adapt. Listen to your body and do what feels right for you – which may mean reducing your workout schedule. Don’t aim for progress this month and instead keep your focus on maintenance.
Lack of planning is one of the biggest mistakes you can make during Ramadan – and failing to plan is planning to fail. Try and make a plan for your diet, training and sleep, which will help keep you on track during this challenging month. You won’t lose much muscle and strength if you stop working out completely during Ramadan, for example, but you will tend to stick to your diet less, which could set you back in other ways and increase fat and weight gain. A sensible plan should help solve this.
There can be a tendency to over indulge during the holy month as your body goes from famine to feast so try and stick to the basic rules of good nutrition to avoid excessive weight gain. Having said that, you don’t want a calorie deficit either, which can happen as your stomach gets used to less food, so you also need to make sure you’re eating enough to fuel you during the long fasting days.
Do make sure your meals are well balanced with a good ratio of protein, healthy fats and complex carbs. Chicken, eggs, fish, quinoa, oats, brown rice, avocados, spinach, and nuts and nut butters are all foods that will power you effectively. But if you’re craving dessert or something a little naughtier, do allow yourself some more calorie dense foods too, after you’ve eaten a balanced meal, so there’s less danger of over-eating. Remember, your goal this month is maintenance rather than progress.
Rehydration is Key
Avoid fizzy drinks and juices, which can be overloaded with sugar, and too much coffee and green tea, which are diuretics, and stick to good old H2O instead. Aim for as much as three liters between iftar and suhoor to fight off dehydration. Just keep a bottle on hand and sip as much as possible in your non-fasting hours rather than downing great quantities at once.
When should you workout?
Again, the key rule here is to listen to your body, with some common sense rules thrown in. If you’re determined to workout during your fast, for example, try and time it to finish up to 15 minutes to an hour before you break your fast, so your iftar can function as a post-workout meal.
There are lots of differing opinions about when you should workout during Ramadan but I think the key thing is to do what’s right for you. Generally, I think it’s better to work out about an hour after having eaten – either after iftar or suhoor, if you can face that – which will give your body time to digest your food and be fuelled for your workout, and when you will also be sufficiently re-hydrated. That way, you should get the most out of your workouts.
What workout should you do?
Again there are lots of different opinions about what types of workouts are most effective during Ramadan. I think for most people – even if you’re very fit – it won’t be possible to maintain the same frequency or intensity of working out as when you’re not fasting. The type of workout you do will also depend on whether you’re doing it fasted or after having eaten. Remember, as I said earlier, this is not the time to up your workout schedule or suddenly take up Crossfit, but rather to try and maintain your fitness goals.
My advice is to dial it down a bit this month as your body adapts to your new schedule. Go for moderate amounts of low-intensity cardio – 20-30 minutes on a bike or treadmill, for example, rather than too much high-intensity training. By all means, continue lifting weights if you’re already doing so, but if you’re feeling fatigued or tired then take it down a notch or two and avoid complex, highly intense moves like deadlifts if you’re struggling.
I personally like TRX, a military-style system that uses your own body weight for resistance – 30 minutes of moderate activity using this kind of technique will feel like a full workout. Aim for moderate quantities of moderately intense exercise – anything more is a bonus. The psychological boost you get from working out will also help you control your eating.
Last but not least, do try and get enough sleep this month, which can be challenging. Sleep is vital for your physical and emotional health; it can help keep you from being grouchy, boost your immunity and energy levels, and regulate your eating. Try and get one block of consolidated sleep of at least 4-5 hours if possible, and an additional nap during the day for the month of Ramadan.
To improve the quantity and quality of your sleep, try and sleep at regular times every day if you can. Avoid eating very large meals before you’re due to hit the sack, and keep caffeine to a minimum instead of getting a bid dose of it after iftar. Keep your bedroom cool and dark and gadget-free to really maximize the quality of your sleep.