The Holy Month of Ramadan, observed by millions of Muslims around the world, can present a challenge when it comes to sticking to or maintaining your health and fitness goals if you don’t have a planned approach. Indeed, not having a clear target or nutritional strategy in place can leave you with a disrupted digestive system, unwanted weight gain, and more.
Surprisingly, despite long periods without food and water, more than 50 percent of fasters tend to gain weight in the form of fat during Ramadan, according to a 2011 study published in the Nutrition Journal.
If you play your cards right when it comes to your nutrition and training, however, you can avoid the pitfalls presented by some of the cultural traditions of the month. The key is to have a plan and the right mindset.
The eight-hour window for food consumption should be looked at as an opportunity to nourish your body with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, supplementation, and water to help it restore and repair.
Completing a 16-hour fast actually offers the ideal opportunity for your digestive system to regenerate and your liver to detoxify. Plus, there is the added benefit of regular prayer throughout the day activating the parasympathetic system in your body, allowing it to heal from modern-day stressors and recover from workouts.
As for your training, make the most of this month to prioritize recovery, instead of making it an afterthought. In the weeks and days leading up to Ramadan, try to give your training an extra push, whether through increased volume or intensity, knowing that you will slow down the pace for the next month to focus instead on movement and training frequency.
Here are seven strategies to help you get the best results over the next month.
Don’t write the month off and think that you can’t achieve progress in your health and fitness goals. Set a target and use fasting as a way to kickstart and actually improve your digestive health.
Break Your Fast Wisely.
When breaking the 16-hour fast, it is critical to get in some important and vital nutrients. First, make sure you’re adequately hydrated by adding unrefined Himalayan or Celtic sea salt (a small pinch) to 500ml of filtered water. Natural, unrefined salts contain many beneficial trace minerals and electrolytes that help with rapid rehydration. Secondly, eat two to three servings of a high-quality pure nut butter to help stabilize your blood sugars before eating two or three dates. Culturally, dates are used to break the fast, and they’re a healthy option when accompanied by a slow-digesting food, like nuts.
Prioritize Getting Adequate Protein.
Between sunset and sunrise, aim for a minimum of 1.5g of protein per kilo of body weight. This can be difficult to meet without the aid of supplements during Ramadan. Using a high-quality and easily digestible – preferably vegan – protein powder is the key. Studies have shown that supplemental protein powders can be effective at maintaining muscle mass, and this will enable you to consume more protein without burdening your digestive system – like a huge steak before bed would.
Focus on Sleep.
Aim for seven to eight hours. Waking up early for prayers and staying up late for meals with family and friends is common during Ramadan, but it does reduce your amount of sleep. During this month, make up for lost sleep by napping when you can, as an adequate amount of rest will help to stabilize blood sugars the following day and reduce cravings.
Avoid Excessive Amounts of Sugar and Fast carbs.
Yes, it is okay to have some fast-burning carbs or sugars around your training sessions, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can eat what you want because you have been fasting all day. Research has shown that ingestion of glucose can have a negative effect on hormone levels. Plus, excess sugars will make it hard to stabilize your blood sugars during your fasting period.
Schedule Your Workouts Wisely.
The best time to work out during Ramadan depends on your schedule and preferences, but consider planning your gym sessions either an hour before or after Iftar for recovery and hydration. This timing ensures your body will utilize carbohydrates and proteins effectively to aid in recovery.
Don’t Skip Your Workouts.
Try to make it to the gym at least three to four times per week over this period. Even if they are lighter training sessions, they will most likely provide enough stress or stimulation to help you hold and gain new levels of fitness. Avoiding the gym for thirty days will make it that much more difficult to get started again after Ramadan.