The holy month of Ramadan is about to begin!
Aside from the obligatory fasting from sun rise till sunset, Muslims proudly demonstrates their faith, devotion to family and charitable acts during this special time of year.
If you plan on maintaining or starting an exercise regime this Ramadan it’s important to be aware of the impacts that the holy month will have upon your ability to engage in physical activity as well as your overall level of well-being.
The aim of this article is to provide you with some simple tips to exercise safely and effectively during Ramadan.
HOW RAMADAN IMPACTS YOUR EXERCISE PERFORMANCE
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing, so it’s wise not to abandon it during the holy month. Having said that, the diet and lifestyle practices of Ramadan can potentially make your regular exercise routine more challenging than usual for reasons such as:
- Sleep debt: altered sleep patterns caused by waking early to eat and engage in social/religious activities before sunrise can result in sleep deprivation during Ramadan. Chronic sleep deprivation has unfavorable impacts upon your physical performance by making exercise feel harder and reducing endurance capacity. Try your best to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night throughout Ramadan.
- Sub-optimal fueling: Sport nutrition guidelines recommend the consumption of carbohydrate and fluid before and during exercise, and consumption of protein, carbohydrate, and fluids soon after a training session has ended. Depending upon when you train during the day it may not be possible to consume fluids or food which may reduce your performance and recovery.
- Dehydration: abstaining from food and fluids for an extended period of time in warm climates will lead to some level of dehydration. The trouble is as little as 2% dehydration can impair your physical performance by making exercise feel harder, increasing heart rate and elevating core body temperature. Dehydration can also lead to tiredness/lethargy, decreased cognitive function and headaches.
- Other considerations: caffeine and nicotine withdrawals can also contribute to general feelings of lethargy and cause mood swings which add additional challenges to staying active.
Despite the inherent challenges of exercising during Ramadan there’s no need to stop! You just need to make some adjustments to your routine to get the most out of your workout time and exercise safely.
Here are my top tips to help you achieve this!
HOW TO ADAPT YOUR TRAINING DURING RAMADAN
A simple way to modify your workout regime and mitigate the adverse impacts of fasting and sleep deprivation on your ability to exercise is to use the FITT factors. FITT is an acronym for the Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type of exercise you perform and is the framework I’m using to help you tinker with your exercise regime during the holy month.
Whilst a workout can be an effective way to combat the lowered levels of daily physical activity and calorie expenditure caused by reduced working hours and more social time during Ramadan, you should think twice before hitting the gym more often than usual.
Ramadan is not the ideal time to start visiting the gym more frequently and caution is advised not to take on too much during the holy month.
You may want to decrease the amount of exercise you perform during Ramadan if sleep debt, fatigue and energy restriction get the better of you. Having said that, if you tend to eat in excess and gain weight during Ramadan, maintaining your exercise regime can help minimize increases in bodyweight.
Tip: Aim to maintain or reduce your frequency of gym visits during Ramadan.
Intensity refers to how hard you exercise relative to your maximum capacity.
As you’re likely to experience increased feelings of fatigue due to fasting and altered sleep patterns during Ramadan it’s recommended that you listen to your body and adjust your exercise intensity to match your energy levels – never hesitate to reduce your exercise intensity if you feel particularly fatigued.
Consider starting low and gradually building up to your pre-Ramadan levels of exercise intensity - but only if you feel strong/well. Due to accumulated sleep loss and fatigue you could feel worse towards the end of the month so pay attention to how you feel and adapt your workouts as needed.
Low- and moderate-intensity cardio exercises, such as jogging, cycling, etc. can be done at any time of the day, whilst higher-intensity training sessions, such as intense exercise classes or serious weight lifting are probably best scheduled to after Iftar when you can take on fluids and fuel.
Tip: Aim to maintain or reduce the intensity of your exercise regime during Ramadan.
It’s generally a good idea to maintain or reduce the duration of your workouts during Ramadan due to accumulated sleep loss and the associated feelings of fatigue.
Exercise sessions exceeding 60 minutes may feel particularly challenging if performed during fasting hours due to a lack of fluids.
Tip: Consider keeping your exercise sessions shorter during the holy month.
When you choose to exercise (i.e. the time of day) will also have an effect upon your workout performance. Here are the pros and cons to working out at certain times of the day during Ramadan:
TRAINING AFTER SAHUR
Exercising 1-3 hours after eating the early morning sahur meal when your energy and hydration levels are replenished can set you up for a high quality workout. This can be a good time to engage in intense exercise, the disadvantage to training at this time of day is the inability to consume fluid and food shortly afterwards to support adaptation and recovery from training.
TRAINING JUST BEFORE IFTAR
Due to the prolonged absence of food and fluid during the day, workouts performed just before iftar may be of a lower quality and feel harder to perform. Consider lowering your exercise intensity and/or duration at this time of day – especially if you don’t feel great, in order to reduce the risk of injury.
The advantage of training 1-2 hours before iftar is the opportunity to refuel immediately after your workout which can promote adaptations to the training stimulus, promote recovery, and reduce muscle damage.
TRAINING JUST AFTER IFTAR
Exercising 1-3 hours after breaking your fast provides the opportunity to fuel and hydrate before, during and after exercise without restrictions. If you are engaging in endurance type activities (perhaps you are a keen runner, cyclist or triathlete) this can be very advantageous.
An additional benefit of training after Iftar is lower daytime temperatures which contribute towards enhanced performance and a decreased risk of dehydration.
There is a down side to working out after Iftar however, high-intensity exercises performed in the evening could negatively affect your sleep quality if performed too close to bed time.
Whilst it’s easy to suggest ideal times to train it’s likely that you can only workout at a particular time of day due to your work and family commitments.
If this is the case just do your best to adjust your workout to suit the time at which you train.
TYPE OF EXERCISE PERFORMED
The best type of exercise is the one you enjoy and that allows you to make progress towards your goals, so choose activities you are likely to do frequently because they feel fun and put a smile on your face!
Warm-ups protocols; a proper warm-up is an important part of any exercise program but should be emphasized even more during Ramadan when feelings of fatigue and tiredness can increase your risk of injury.
Warming-up prepares you mentally and physically for exercise but don’t overdo it - excessive warm-ups can tax your limited energy reserves and compromise the main block of your workout.
Training environment; Exercising in hot and humid conditions makes it much harder to regulate your body temperature - especially when you are already dehydrated from fasting. Workout in cool and shaded environments whenever possible to minimize the risks of overheating and dehydration.
Well-trained (fitter) individuals may be less affected by a lack of fluid intake than untrained individuals due to a higher tolerance to fatigue, greater mental strength and an enhanced ability to store glycogen and water within working muscles.
In short, increased fitness allows you to train with fewer physical challenges and greater self-confidence – something to keep in mind for next year perhaps!
Although Ramadan fasting and sleep patterns can reduce exercise performance, evidence shows athletes can maintain performance during Ramadan if physical training, food and fluid intake, and sleep levels are appropriate.
You can exercise safely and effectively during the holy month by monitoring and adjusting the FITT factors. The key is to listen closely to your body and not be afraid to reduce your workout time or pull back on the intensity if you feel overly tired.
Do whatever you can to maximize post workout hydration, refueling and rest when possible – this is challenging during the holy month!
Implementing some partial fasts for a week or so prior to the first day of Ramadan can help you acclimatize to the extended periods of fasting to come and provide an easier transition into fasting. Delaying your breakfast (if you eat one) for a couple of hours or up until midday is one way to do this.
I hope you’ve learned some useful tips to help you stay fit and healthy during Ramadan.