Stay Healthy During Ramadan

Updated: 6 days ago

Soon Ramadan starts for 1.57 billion people in the world. Ramadan is a perfect opportunity to “reset” oneself mentally, physically and spiritually. These three pillars of health are intertwined, each one profoundly affecting the other and rarely does a chance arise where we can attend to all three together!

The focus of Ramadan is clearly spiritual but neglecting our bodies physically will only reduce the potential detoxification benefits to our mind, body and soul.

Many people are concerned about exercising during the month of Ramadhan. Will I be too dehydrated after my workout? Will I be too weak to exercise?

These are legitimate and real concerns. That being said, you shouldn’t stop exercising altogether during Ramadan, as an entire month of inactivity will significantly reduce your fitness level.

Here is how to observe Ramadan without compromising your fitness goals!

  • Don't Stop Working Out.

The first and most important tip comes right at the beginning: don’t stop working out during Ramadan.

Exercise and activity are often the furthest things from your mind during this month but it is vital to stay active and reduce the sitting time for good health. This is best achieved by planning and preparation before Ramadan. You can build up gradually to at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five times weekly for optimal health benefits. Ramadan is certainly not the time to start a new intense or challenging regime, but refraining from all physical activity is not beneficial either.

Even though you may not make gains in muscle mass during Ramadan, you can at least preserve what you have if you keep your schedule up.

Exercise during Ramadan is not meant to be difficult or exhausting and instead of placing stress on yourself, try and enjoy more therapeutic, restorative exercises that focus on the mind-body connection. You may find something new you love!

  • Reduce Intensity

Probably the best solution during Ramadan is a short bodyweight circuit (compound moves like squats, lunges, press-ups, dips, plank etc) which works well to give maximum impact in minimum time. You can even use this month as an opportunity to do something different to work on aspects of fitness you normally don’t have time for Yoga for flexibility, Pilates for posture and core strength or Tai Chi for focus and balance.

Only low-intensity physical activities like a gentle walk, gentle yoga or stretching can be done 30 minutes before breaking the fast. Beginners and fitness fanatics alike may find this particularly re-energising.

Working out at a high intensity will cause you to feel exhausted due to excessive fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat. Instead of long runs, try going for a short run or a brisk walk. Instead of lifting heavy weights, try doing more bodyweight exercises.Alternatively, if you want to keep your weight training either adjust the weights you are using or the number of reps. If you want to stay with the weights you normally train with, allow for doing fewer repetitions and lower the weight if you fail to reach your normal number of minimum repetitions. If you want to lower the weight right from the beginning, then pick one that under the circumstances of the fasting allows you a maximum of 12 – 15 reps.

The best time to do weights would be between sunset and sunrise, after having broken the fast with a light meal and then eating again after training.

Cardio can be done after a light Iftaar or 1-2 hours after a heavier meal. Pre-Suhoor is another possible workout time though perhaps only for the highly motivated.

Too much cardio will increase the chances of muscle breakdown so reduce the intensity, frequency and duration of the workout. Walk instead of jog if needed and a maximum of 30 minutes is still beneficial. Alternatively, if you are already used to High-Intensity Training, you could opt to do a 10minute burst of HIT.

  • Rethink Your Fitness Goals

If your goal is to lose weight or grow more muscles, put it on hold during this month. Make your goal simply to MAINTAIN where you are. Trying to achieve challenging fitness goals requires you to push your body, causing a reduction in energy and often compromises your immune system. Both of these can significantly affect your ability to fast. So instead of overworking your system to get your body to change, simply maintain where you are and prevent yourself from going backwards.

  • Focus on Your Diet and Food Choices

At the end of the day, fitness is 80% diet and only 20% exercise. If you cannot push yourself to workout this Ramadhan, do not fret. Focus more on your diet instead.

The guidance for diet in Ramadan is no different from a healthy diet any other time of the year. It is best to start making small adjustments to diet 4-8 weeks in advance. Not only will it be beneficial for fasting, but you will find it easier to use those healthy habits afterwards.

Make sure you get a balanced, nutritional diet incorporating protein, complex carbs and healthy fats in both meals. Try and maintain a healthy calorie intake and don’t skip the pre-sunrise meal.

Remember to eat clean to stay lean.

  • Protein Timing

Of course, you can’t follow the rule of having several small doses of protein over the day during Ramadan

But if you manage to have a meal in the mornings, before fajr (صلاة الفجر), and of course the larger ones in the evening and have some protein in both, you will at least somewhat make up for it: protein in food is absorbed much slower than protein from powders and will stay with you quite a bit of time.

If you want to use a powder at all, then it should be one based on casein, and not on the “fast” whey.

  • Carbohydrates in The Morning

Another reason for a morning meal is that you can not only have some protein at that time but also carbohydrates. And as carbs let you work out with intensity, loading up some of them in the mornings should counter a lack of carbs during the day.

If you are used to having a pre-workout meal this won’t make up entirely for it, but it at least should help tide you over.

  • Adjust Workout Times

This should work especially well if you can adjust to having your workouts within a couple of hours of this morning meal, as your carbohydrate reserves will then be quite high. If your workouts take place after a long day of fasting, you might feel rather drained.

The key to fitness during Ramadhan is to be smart and listen to YOUR body.

If waking up early to exercise will compromise on your sleep and make you feel lethargic throughout the day, then maybe it’s best to give your early morning workout a miss.

However, many people, of course, can’t simply go and do their workouts when they would be most beneficial, especially during Ramadan.

A bit of flexibility might help: Instead of doing your workouts at your normal times, during Ramadan do them when you have time and feel the most energetic. A workout done when you feel you have the energy and can do it with intensity is better than a workout you squeeze in and do hurriedly, just because in theory your energy reserves would be better.

  • Get Enough Fluids

When talking about nutrition, we also shouldn’t forget about getting enough fluids.

Ramadan is one of the few times where you need to load up on fluids preemptively before thirst takes place. Especially for those of you living in hot climates, this is rather important; even more so, when you want to do a workout during the day.

Aim to drink 2L of water in the non-fasting period. Keep a bottle of water beside you and sip regularly.

  • Don’t Go All Out in The Evenings

Strangely enough, despite Ramadan is a month of fasting, I know a good number of Muslims who actually gain weight during that month. Because what in many families is then served in the evenings more than makes up for what was lacking during the day. and sometimes food is very rich during Ramadan

Of course, it’s rather easy to overeat when you went without food for 10, 12 or even 14 hours, but do exercise some self-control. In the evenings, get that protein we talked about, but keep an eye on the calories you consume.

  • Sleep Deprivation

Altered circadian rhythm and disrupted hormonal responses is

(1) caused by the change in sleep pattern and food intake contribute to daytime sleepiness, low mood, irritability and reduced performance

(2) Movement and thought processes seem slower and can lead to bad decisions and a higher risk of accidents. If you live in a country where the fasts are long this year, be sure to catch up on sleep even in short bursts, e.g. 30 minutes in the lunch hour, when you get home from work etc.

In Winter and longer nights (like here), try to have an early night no further than 10 pm, you still can catch up for 30 minutes during the day if end up staying up late. Just make sure you give your body the required amount of sleeping hours daily (6-8 hrs)

  • Ramadan Is Tougher In Summer

Finally, don’t forget that Ramadan is more difficult to follow in summer than winter because during summer daylight lasts much longer, you will have less time to eat and drink and also get less sleep.

Therefore, during the years where Ramadan takes place during summer, be prepared that you may not be able to put out the same workout performances you get when Ramadan takes place in winter.

Read more about EXERCISE CONSIDERATIONS &TIPS during Ramadan


Resources for health care professionals and the general public:

Ramadan Health Guide: an excellent all-round guide for patients or medical practitioners www.ramadan.co.uk/RamadhanHealth_Guide.pdf

An excellent, concise guide for Medical Practitioners, DOH funded. Who should and who shouldn’t fast http://www.communitiesinaction.org/Aide%20Memoir.pdf

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde: Ramadan and your diabetic patients. A more detailed resource pack for Medical Practitioners inc risk stratification for diabetics and drug dosage/schedule adjustment http://library.nhsggc.org.uk/mediaAssets/My%20HSD/2011-05-31-RAMADAN_RESOURCE_PACK.pdf

Healthy tips for Ramadan: general information, FAQs , smoking cessation. http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/healthyramadan/Pages/healthyramadanhome.aspx

Muslim Council of Britain. Ramadan and Diabetes, a guide for patients. Great for GPs too http://www.staffordshireandstokeontrent.nhs.uk/Ramadan%20Health%20Guide.pdf

Fasting and asthma http://www.asthma.org.uk/fasting-and-asthma


References:

1- BaHammam A, Alrajeh M, Albabtain M, Bahammam S, Sharif M. Circadian pattern of sleep, energy expenditure, and body temperature of young healthy men during the intermittent fasting of Ramadan.

2- Roky R, Houti I, Moussamih S, Qotbi S,Aadil N .Physiological and chronobiological changes during Ramadan intermittent fasting

3- Chaouachi A, Leiper JB, Chtourou H, Aziz AR, Chamari K.The effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on athletic performance: recommendations for the maintenance of physical fitness.

4- Leiper JB1, Molla AM, Molla AM Effects on health of fluid restriction during fasting in Ramadan.

5- Bravis V1, Hui E, Salih S, Mehar S, Hassanein M, Devendra D Ramadan Education and Awareness in Diabetes (READ) programme for Muslims with Type 2 diabetes who fast during Ramadan.

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