Ramadan can be a challenging time for many Muslims trying to achieve weight loss and fat loss goals.
The 30-day fasting period during the Holy Month of Ramadan means refraining from consuming food and drink in the long hours from dawn until sunset.
This can mean a huge dietary upheaval and metabolic mayhem in contrast to the usual fitness regimes of many Muslims around the world.
But with proper planning and the right guidance on diet, nutrition and exercise it is still possible to safely and effectively progress towards your weight loss and fat loss goals while fasting for Ramadan.
We have created this guide to weight loss in Ramadan and added some sample meals to help you make progress and finish Ramadan fitter, healthier and leaner than when you began.
If your goal is to lose weight, then you need to monitor your daily calorie intake.
This is even more important during Ramadan when it’s very easy to over-eat on calorie-dense foods during Iftar – especially when you’ve gone all day with no food or water.
The bottom line for many people struggling to lose weight is they’re often simply consuming too many calories to lose weight or shed body fat (even if those excess calories are coming from healthy sources).
Ever heard the expression ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet’? Well, it’s true.
To hit your weight loss goal, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Not just day to day, but over the week.
You could be in a calorie deficit of 300 calories a day from Monday to Friday which totals 1500 calories down. But then if you cut loose at the weekend and eat two tubs of ice cream totalling 3,000 calories then that calorie deficit you’ve worked so hard on maintaining through the week will turn into a calorie surplus – and that means weight gain.
That’s where tracking your food, and therefore your calorie intake, is key. Using an app like MyFitnessPal is really useful for helping monitor your diet and ensuring your calorie intake is where it should be to keep losing body fat.
Keep your food intake the same
Just because it’s Ramadan doesn’t mean you should suddenly change your diet drastically.
In fact, if your goal is to lose weight and shed fat then you should actually try your best to eat the same quality, quantity and ratio of food that you would regularly on your weight loss or fat loss diet.
It might be the case that you won’t be able to fit the same amount of meals into your eating window between Iftar and Suhur than you would on a normal day outside Ramadan, but try and keep the amount and quality of food you consume in those meals the same.
What’s the key to any successful weight loss or body transformation diet? Planning and organisation.
Ensuring that you have all your meals planned and prepared in advance means you’re far more likely to stick to your diet plan which ultimately adds up to better weight loss and fat loss success long term.
If you leave your meals to chance and just grab something when you’re hungry, you’re more likely to make bad food choices when Iftar comes around.
After a full day of fasting your hunger hormones will be high meaning that it’s easier to just gorge on the kinds of foods that taste great but are terrible for your body composition goals.
So having healthy meals ready and waiting for when you break fast that meet your calorie needs and macronutrients goals is key to weight loss success.
Become a master of meal prep and you will breeze through Ramadan.
Prep your meals
Food prep is the easiest and most effective way to stay on track with your diet.
Once you’re on a fat loss plan and you know your calorie totals and macronutrient goals, get batch cooking some go-to healthy meals and portion them out in Tupperware boxes ready for when you need them.
Spending an hour or so a week planning your food and meals for the coming seven days over Ramadan will save you loads of cooking time in the long run. Plus buying and cooking in bulk are much more cost-effective than grabbing a meal from a shop or getting food in a restaurant or takeaway.
Prepping at home also means you know exactly what you’re getting in your food calories- and macronutrients-wise.
Who knows how many hidden calories are in the so-called ‘healthy’ foods you will get at your local restaurant?
Batch cooking your protein sources is very simple – it only takes half an hour at most to cook off a batch of chicken fillets or steaks.
It’s equally simple to throw some basic ingredients like meat, vegetables and stock in a slow cooker and leave them to simmer all day ready for Iftar. When it comes time to break fast, you will have a delicious and nutritious meal ready and waiting.
There will be times during Ramadan when you will be enjoying social occasions and eating out at restaurants with family and friends.
It can be difficult to stay on track with your diet when you’re out for a meal unless you plan ahead.
There are so many foods on the menu that can derail your weight loss and fat loss goals (which we discuss in the next section).
But now, increasingly, restaurants are offering healthier options for the more body-conscious diner.
It’s always advisable to check the menu before you arrive to see which meal will best fit your meal plan or dietary needs.
If your regular weight loss meals often contain a piece of protein like chicken or fish and lots of green vegetables then try and order something similar from the menu.
We doubt that your weight loss diet would contain things like pizza, burgers and fries, so avoid choices like that if you want to keep progressing towards your goals.
It’s always advisable to say no to ‘extras’ when you order. Things like coleslaw, onion rings, fries, sauces and added cheese are added extras that will seriously bump up the calorie count of the meals.
Keep it simple and go for something like steak and vegetables – you’ll be able to track the number of calories on your food tracker app.
Restaurants are always amendable to making substitutes for foods, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Good swaps are potatoes for sweet potatoes, fries for green vegetables and salads without dressings. Always base your meal around a good source of protein.
Foods to avoid at Iftar
When you have been fasting for so many hours, you are understandably going to be very hungry.
When Iftar comes around it can be very easy to eat everything you can lay your hands on and binge on foods that are calorie-dense and won’t help you achieve your weight loss goals.
There are so many calorie-laden, suboptimal foods on offer at Iftar and when your blood sugar is low, and your appetite is raging it can be hard to resist.
That’s why food prep and having optimal meals on you at key meal times during Ramadan is critical to not ruin your progress.
If you want to stay on track and ensure that you maintain optimal health and eat to benefit your body and your performance in the gym, there are many foods you need to avoid.
Swerve typically low-nutrient-dense meals, junk food and highly-processed products – basically anything that is ‘beige’ like cakes, pastries, cereals, biscuits and crackers, as well as fast foods, dairy and highly processed meats.
The problem with a lot of these foods is that they are low in nutrients and high in calories, not to mention full of trans fats and toxins – a disaster if you’re trying to lose weight.
What to eat
Instead of filling up on mountains of junk food at Iftar, we advise that you break your fast intelligently with foods that are nutrient-dense and filling.
Nutrition during Ramadan doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s always best to keep things simple.
One rule we always tell clients to live by at Ultimate Performance is ‘eat from the land’ – and this becomes even more pertinent during Holy Month when optimising health becomes a real priority.
This simply means predominantly eating foods that were grown or raised in a field rather than created in a factory.
While you have to watch your total calories – you also have to watch the quality of those calories.
100 calories from grass-fed beef will not have the same effect on your body as 100 calories from a chocolate bar.
So make the right food choices.
Base your diet around lean meats, healthy fats, low glycemic index carbohydrate sources and plenty of green vegetables.
This should be the cornerstone of your diet during Ramadan…and throughout the rest of the year.
Every meal should include a quality source of protein.
If you want to finish the holy month with better body composition than when you started, then ensure your protein intake is sufficient.
Protein is vital for growth and repair of tissue in your body including skin and hair, but most importantly muscle.
If you’re still training hard during Ramadan (which we encourage you to do to maintain your fat loss or weight loss goals), then your body’s protein need will be high.
However, fasting for so many hours means that you run the risk of muscle protein loss.
So it is vital to keep your protein intake high between Iftar and Suhur and get some quality sources of protein every meal.
We recommend that you should try and eat between 1.6-2.2g of protein per 1kg of body weight.
The best sources of protein are from lean meats like chicken, turkey and beef, as well as fish, Greek yoghurt, whey, eggs and even things like tofu and tempeh if you’re a vegetarian.
Protein is also vital to any weight loss diet because it is very satiating, meaning it will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Protein also has the highest thermic effect of food when compared to fat and carbs – meaning it takes the most energy to break it down and digest. Great if you’re trying to lose weight.
No, fats are not all bad. In fact, healthy fats are a great addition to your Ramadan diet that will aid your weight loss goals, provided you’re getting them from the right sources.
Fats have a bad reputation, being linked to obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol. But this isn’t true. Actually fat is vital to a healthy diet and an optimally functioning body.
Your body needs fat for hormone production, to maintain cell membrane health, managing inflammation and in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins including vitamins A, D, E and K.
Fat can be a great source of energy during Ramadan
Since you will spend most of the day fasting it’s important to stay insulin and leptin sensitive. Avoiding carbs can help maintain this sensitivity, especially if you are eating high fat, high-calorie meals
This makes fats a great source of fuel to eat during your final meal before the fast begins again.
It’s important to get the right fats in your diet though. Avoiding man-made ‘trans fats’ is critical here – they’re pro-inflammatory and associated with a number of health problems.
Some people work really well on high fat, high protein and low carbs – particularly during a period of fasting.
But if you like to include carbs in your diet, ensure they’re from quality sources that will support your weight loss goals. This means carb sources that also have a high level of satiety.
Some great sources of carbohydrates to include in your diet that fall into this category are sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and oats.
One of the best time to consume carbs is after training when your body is at its most insulin sensitive while also helping you to restore muscle glycogen stores.
Carbs before bed, contrary to popular belief, is also something we recommend to clients at UP.
A small helping of good quality carbs in your last meal of the day can boost the production of serotonin in the brain – the hormone that helps you to relax.
This is particularly key as it will help you sleep better – something that is important to reduce the stress that long hours of fasting can place on the body.
We all know vegetables are healthy but they really are crucial to your weight loss efforts.
Ensuring you get a large helping of vegetables during every meal throughout Ramadan is important to help you achieve the results you want.
Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that can help detoxify the body and help reduce inflammation.
Vegetables like kale, broccoli and cauliflower are also high in fibre which aids digestion and keeps your gut healthy.
However, when you’re going for long periods without food, they become even more important – particularly when your goal is to lose weight or shed body fat.
They are key for satiety because of their high fibre content and the fact that they are high volume, but low calorie means you can consume a lot of them and they will keep you feeling fuller for longer and stave off cravings or hunger.
*This sample meal plan is designed around a 60kg female with 25% body fat with a fat loss goal during Ramadan.
It’s based on a 20% calorie deficit with the person having two 3-4 hour sleeps.
Meal 1: 3:30 am before Fajar
-150g baked salmon
-60g white rice
200ml skimmed milk
Meal 2: 7:30 pm
150g chicken breast
150g green vegetables with 10g butter
Strength training 9:45 pm
1 litre of water
Meal 3 10:30 pm
150g white fish
150g green vegetables with 10g butter
Total Cals 1400
Total Net Protein 110g
Total Net Fats 45g
Total Net carbs 140g
During Ramadan is it critical that you rehydrate as fully as possible when you break fast, particularly if you live in hot climates, have a physical job or do high-intensity exercise.
Water is key to the optimal functioning of your body and your brain. Dehydration is responsible for the downregulation of almost every cellular process in the body.
Not getting adequate water can also affect muscle protein synthesis and even 3% dehydration can dent your strength and power output in the gym.
If fat loss is your goal, then hydration is a must. Without enough water, the liver will metabolise less fat because it has to take over some of the functions of the kidneys when you are dehydrated.
It is very easy to become dehydrated during Ramadan as long days of fasting mount up.
Try and aim for a steady intake of 2-3litres between Iftar and Suhur.
Try to avoid sugary drinks or foods high in salt which will just make you more thirsty.
The relationship between sleep and weight loss is one that is well documented by science.
Sleep is vital for ensuring optimum health, recovery, performance and ultimately helps you realise your fat loss goals.
But when you are fasting during the holy month, sleep becomes even more important to counter the stress it puts on your body.
Getting enough quality sleep is important for healthy hormone balance. Firstly it’s when your body produces the most testosterone and growth hormone (important for both men and women). But also it helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol which, when you’re deprived of sleep, is increased to keep your body running but actually results in lower ‘real’ energy, mental fog, fatigue and hunger cravings.
We always recommend that you try and achieve between 7-8 hours of good quality sleep.
However, during Ramadan, this is difficult to achieve in one go with people wanting to make the most of the social occasions and periods of eating. So splitting this into two phases can also work.
If your goal is to burn fat, lose weight or build muscle, then strength training is the key to getting a better body.
Training throughout Ramadan is important to maintain your progress and even get fitter and leaner than you were before.
Don’t use Ramadan as an excuse to give up on exercise.
Putting your exercise regime on hold for a full month will set you back a long way with your goals.
Ramadan is a time to train hard, but more importantly to train smart.
Fasting such long hours puts a large amount of stress on your body so it’s important to add in exercise stress to your day in a measured and thoughtful way.
‘Stimulate not annihilate’ is the secret to the incredible body transformations we achieve with regular clients at UP – but this takes on an even greater salience for anyone fasting during Ramadan.
You shouldn’t be trying to hit your personal best lifts or starting a new high-intensity weight training regime (unless you’re truly feeling fit and strong after the fast).
It’s always advisable to use Ramadan as a period to maintain your fitness levels rather than drilling yourself into the ground.
Simply weight training three sessions a week is a great way to deal with the stress of fasting while maintaining strength and muscle.
Training early in the morning in best during Ramadan after your first meal of the day. Either that, or hitting the gym after your first main meal after Iftar so your body is well fuelled to hit a hard workout with intensity.
Don’t feel you have to spend hours in the gym either. Aim for 45 minutes of solid work on something like German Body Composition Training where you can go hard and intense in a time-efficient manner.
While weight training and lifting hard and heavy should be the cornerstone of any fat loss plan for both men and women, cardio can also play an important role.
First, we would always advise clients to get their diet right first and optimised for fat loss while also performing 3-4 strength training sessions a week.
But you can add some cardio training at the end of your weights session to get your heart rate up and expend some more calories.
There are two key types of cardio that you can consider during Ramadan which will help you burn fat optimally – high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and low-intensity steady state (LISS).
HIIT will give you the most ‘bang for your buck’ for fat loss as it’s fast, efficient and effective.
It basically involves bursts of 10-30 second maximum effort sprints followed by 40-120 seconds of rest.
You can perform this type of training on a treadmill, watt bike, rower, sleds, prowlers, or just by sprinting outside.
The key is to give it 100% effort as it works with a calorie ‘afterburn’ effect where your body will continue to use calories hours after you’ve finished.
HIIT is extremely effective for fat loss if done correctly – but it is also very taxing on the body and tough on your recovery.
This is something to consider during Ramadan when your body is already under stress from fasting.
It may not be advisable to start a new programme of HIIT during Ramadan if you’ve never done it before or you don’t have an accomplished training history.
That’s why it’s always advisable to consult a professional personal trainer for the right training programme for your individual needs.
LISS, on the other hand, is gentle and low intensity and could be a great fat loss tool for men and women fasting throughout the holy month.
LISS includes anything as simple as going for a walk, swim or bike ride at a gentle pace that will only slightly raise your heart rate.
The main benefit of LISS is that it’s very easy to recover from and can actually improve your recovery from strength training.
It doesn’t stress the body like HIIT which is important during Ramadan; in fact, it can help de-stress if you’re going for a walk outside.
You don’t get the same calorie ‘afterburn’ effect you do with HIIT, but it will still help increase the energy deficit you need to lose weight or fat.
Staying active during Ramadan is a must for anyone who wants to lose weight.
While you should be training in the gym three times a week to maintain your fitness during Ramadan, what you do outside of the gym is equally important.
Being active plays a big role in your overall calorie expenditure during the day – and that’s not just exercise, it can be walking upstairs, walking for the train, having a standing desk, cleaning the house or any other daily activities.
These all fall under the bracket of NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) which relates to all other daily activities which burn calories.
The best way to track your activity levels is to get a step counter app on your smartphone, fitness watch or buy a cheap pedometer to measure your steps.
A good target to aim for every day is 10,000 steps which will really boost your weight loss efforts.
Ramadan is a special time of worship, spirituality and self-reflection for millions of Muslims across the globe.
The 30-day period of fasting can be challenging and it can be very tempting to abandon your fitness and health goals.
But it’s very possible to complete the holy month with improved fat loss while remaining fit and healthy.
The main things to remember are
-Always plan ahead
-Track your calorie intake
-Ensure you eat optimally with foods that are conducive to fat loss goals
-Stay hydrated every day
-Stick to your strength training regime
-Stay active every day.
-Get advice on your training and from a fitness professional
Following these tips will ensure you progress towards your goals during the month of Ramadan.
If you want a Personal Training and Nutrition Plan that helps you get maximum results in minimum time, see how Ultimate Performance can help you achieve your goals.