Ramadan doesn’t need to wipe out your fitness, muscle and nutrition gains, by using the Ultimate Performance guide below, we’ll show you how to be healthier than when you started.
In today’s increasingly multi-cultural, or cross-cultural (a phrase that suggests a type of integration that we feel we should be aiming for) society, we always need to address certain differences. And there are tonnes – from those who won’t eat pork (not a problem at all when it comes to optimizing body composition) to those who won’t eat red meat or even in some cases any type of animal product at all (we can improve such cases but it always presents a trickier and more methodical approach).
So, in this spirit, we thought it might be useful to address an issue that affects a number of our personal training clients throughout the globe and no doubt many of our readers at large. That is, the subject of how to eat over the upcoming Islamic period of religious observance known as Ramadan.
Proper nutrition, supplementation and exercise during Ramadan are very thorny issues for some.
The rules of Ramadan as we understand them, and if we have got anything wrong please correct us, are that for a calendar month (the ninth in the Islamic calendar, the dates of which vary and are governed by a visible crescent in the astronomical new moon) a total fast (no food, no drink, no sex) must be adhered to from Dawn to Sunset, beginning before and ending after specific prayers.
This year it falls between Monday 6th June and Wednesday 6th July. In the UK, this is set to be the ‘longest’ Ramadan in 33 years, meaning fasts can last from 16 to 20 hours depending on your location.
For anyone seeking to improve their health, fitness and physical appearance this is something of a metabolic disaster and as much damage limitation as possible needs to be put into action – nutrition during Ramadan being typically a low blood sugar-induced gorge fest. This is especially true as Ramadan seems to occur most often in the summer months when daylight is close to its peak.
In many Islamic countries, daytime life moves at a slower pace during Ramadan (in Dubai for example) and then picks up at night when people are eating, being sociable and generally feel more energetic as they have some food and drink inside their stomachs. This isn’t something that happens in the West, however, and the thought of trying to maintain a functioning, healthy daytime lifestyle during the warmer summer months, without even water to subsist on must be a true test of religious observance that we can only marvel at.
At UP, our rules for maintaining fitness, muscle tone, and minimizing a metabolic shutdown over Ramadan are as follows-
1) Don’t use Ramadan as an excuse to not exercise.
It is crucially important that you do some gym work over Ramadan in order to maintain the results you’ve worked hard for leading up to it. The best time to hit the gym during Ramadan is either early in the morning, after your first meal of the day, or after your first meal post-fasting. This is so your body is well fuelled to generate the intensity levels required for a good training session, as well as to ensure your muscles have some nutrients to recover from training.
2) The best time to hit the gym.
The best time during Ramadan is either early in the morning, after your first meal of the day, or after your first meal post-fasting.
3) Ensure that your Ramadan ‘breakfasts’ contain easily digested protein and, depending upon your goals, some complex carbs and essential fats.
By breakfast, we literally mean the two meals following a fast, one following sleep or opening the fast, and the other following the day’s fasting. If you are due to follow one of these meals with a hard workout, something like a whey shake with essential fats, an apple and a handful of nuts would be great.
4) Don’t go seeking personal bests in the gym during Ramadan – (unless you are feeling on top of the world!)
Our advice would be to switch up your routine from the norm, so that you don’t feel down in any way about a noticeable decrease in physical performance, and try to make the workouts as fun and varied as possible.
5) Keep your workout duration tight.
Get in and out of the gym in under one hour – preferably aim for 45 minutes of hard work. If you normally take much longer don’t worry, you can still get an awful lot done in 45 minutes. For those of you who are looking to gain muscle Ramadan is more about anti-atrophy workouts than super mega blasting hypertrophy! Remember, it takes a lot less to maintain strength and muscle than it does to build it, so don’t be afraid to lower your volume and shorten your workouts.
6) Hydration, hydration, hydration!
During the time that you are allowed to drink, this is extremely important. If you visit some bodybuilding gyms in London, you’ll often see some hardcore Muslim bodybuilders almost pass out as they tried to push themselves without drinking water. A good goal for a 200lb man should be to try to down 3 litres of water between dawn and sunrise.
7) Don’t panic.
Some people go into Ramadan thinking that they will lose all their hard earned gains as it is impossible to benefit from good nutrition, supplementation and exercise during Ramadan. This isn’t so, and with a bit of organization and thought there is no reason to take a big step backwards. In the short window available, 3-4 nutritional meals are very possible, and this alone should be enough for maintenance, and maybe for the very lucky ones, even some small improvements.
Here’s an example of a rough guideline of a plan for one of our clients with muscle building goals, whose calorie intake is relatively high. During the month of Ramadan, we shift the goal to maintenance, and adopt this eating schedule (remember, this is only an example of how you could eat. The amounts are not important, and entirely dependent on the individual’s goals and calorie intake)
9.40pm – Break Fast / Pre Workout: Whey, Cream of Rice, Fruit (Raisins/Dates/Apple), Nut Butter, Fish Oils
10.30pm – During Workout – Amino Acid and Carb Powder drink
11.30pm – Post Workout Shake – Whey and Carb Powder drink
12.30am – Post Workout Meal – Lean Beef Mince, Rice, Olive Oil
2.30am – Pre Fast Meal – Eggs and Oats
9.40pm – Whole Food Meal (e.g. meat / fish with healthy fats / carbs)
12am – Liquid Meal (e.g. whey, cream of rice / oats, dried fruit, nut butter all blended)
2.20am – Whole Food Meal (e.g. meat / fish with healthy fats / carbs)
It isn’t ideal, but it does show you that your physique doesn’t have to come crashing down.
If minimising fat accumulation (or fat loss for the super ambitious) is your goal, the above example diet will be different, and the mainstay of your macronutrients would be from protein and “good fats” (think unprocessed, natural fats and you won’t go far wrong).
8) Take some supplements.
There are a few specific supplements that would definitely help ease the metabolic challenges of Ramadan. Our top Ramadan specific supplement picks would be:
- Greens Powder (add several tablespoons to a large bottle of water and sip constantly- our ‘Choconutrients’ powdered fruit & greens product is perfect for this!)
- A good digestive enzyme complex (this may be one of the most important supplements this year due to the very short eating window)
- Protein powders (both whey and casein can be useful here)
- Multi Vit / Mineral
- Magnesium (at night to aid sleep)
In summary, the discipline of Ramadan need not prevent proper nutrition, supplementation and exercise. Yes, it will be challenging and require both discipline and moderation, but that is obviously what part of the whole process is about.