8 tips for training at the gym during the month of Ramadan

Contrary to popular belief, Ramadan is about more than just abstaining from eating and drinking. It’s a time where you’re encouraged to strip away the distractions and luxuries, to live more simply.

More prayer, more gratitude, more reflection. A time to get closer to God. Most major world religions include some form of ritualised fasting among their practices. It’s typically considered an important path to spiritual purification. (Ritualised fasting, not to be confused with intermittent fasting.)

Now even though many Muslims will be fasting during this month, there will be many who want to continue going to the gym and training during this time (which is probably why you’re reading this). I certainly fall into that camp.

From my own perspective, training is an important part of my life. It makes me a better person. I feel healthier, more balanced, and more disciplined. There’s no reason why you have to give this up during Ramadan. You just have to be intelligent in how you go about it, because this time around fasting will be more physically draining than ever.

As we approach the peak of the summer, the sun doesn’t set until very late in the day. We’ll be breaking the fast around 9.30 pm every night (and at the time of writing, the days continue to get longer.)

Therefore if you want to train effectively during Ramadan, it’s vital to create a plan to take the above into account.

But first, some good news and some bad news. The good news? You’ll lose some weight. The bad news? You’ll lose some weight.

If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re fairly new to training. If that’s the case, let me tell you, though you won’t make size gains during this month, you can still make some decent strength gains.

The first time I trained during Ramadan I dropped a few kilograms of weight whilst simultaneously getting stronger. Although I didn’t necessarily want to lose the weight, it wasn’t the end of the world as I was happy with the fact that I had more strength. If you’re looking to gain mass, however, you should accept from now the very high likelihood that you are going to lose weight.

This year’s eating window is super short. Unless you spend every waking second consuming food, it will be extremely difficult to get in all the calories needed to build (or even maintain) muscle.

In my opinion, you should probably leave the mass gain plans for after Ramadan. Try to maintain what you already have.

So here we go. Based on sound broscience and personal experience, here are my 8 tips for training in Ramadan.

1. Try to train directly before or after iftar (breaking of the fast)

Before is OK, after is better.

I’ve trained at both times, and in my experience, training after breaking my fast always resulted in a better training session. More strength, more power.

Having said that, training before iftar can certainly be done – but you’ll just need to be more conservative with your training intensity. Which leads me to my next point..

2. Avoid super-intense cardio

This one goes out to all the cardio addicts. If you are fasting, your body is not working at it’s optimal capacity. You are most likely dehydrated, sleep deprived, and low on blood sugar. Therefore it probably doesn’t make much sense doing hard interval workouts or crazy battle rope circuits.

A few years ago, still a foolish young whippersnapper, I made this very mistake. I thought I could outsmart the Matrix. I decided to do some hard bike intervals during the middle of a fast. A few minutes later, I woke up on the gym floor wondering what had happened. A member of the gym staff was holding my head off the ground like I’d just been knocked out by Mike Tyson.

Know your limits.

3. Lighten the weight, increase the number of reps

This point stems from personal preference more than anything, and other lifters may disagree with it. However in my experience, fasting for long periods will suck the juice out of you. I simply cannot lift as heavy as I usually can while fasting.

Therefore I’d suggest to keep the reps in the moderate to high rep range, around 6-10. Don’t lift with your ego. Adapt to the situation.

A quote I have always loved is the following from Bruce Lee.

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.

It’s so true. Sometimes you just have to play the card you’re dealt.

This rep range is a good compromise as it’s light enough to stay safe, but still heavy enough to feel like you lifted heavy. I made good strength gains lifting like this when I was a newbie.

4. Take longer rest periods between sets

Longer rest periods are important as your body will not be working at full capacity. You have to take this into account and not try to work at your usual frenetic pace.

Just don’t keep the rest periods too long. Your workout should still be somewhat intense. Two minutes should do it for most exercises.

5. Load up on carbs

It goes without saying that zero/low carb diets should be completely thrown out of the window during Ramadan. Throw them in the skip actually.

Carbs are somewhat akin to a dirty word among people who want to lose weight or new gym goers, but the truth is, they’re just misunderstood. Carbohydrates are very important in providing energy for your workouts – especially if you train hard (which we are all supposed to be doing..) With low carbs, your performance will inevitably suffer. You’ll most likely feel sluggish, weak, and irritable.

Come to think of it, I actually don’t know a single person who has A) Managed to stick to a zero/low carb diet for longer than 2 months, and B) Managed to keep the weight they lost permanently off. Fad diets don’t work.. period.

Anyway, I digress.

After you eat carbs, your body stores some of it in the form of glycogen. When it’s time to exercise, your body breaks this glycogen down into glucose (sugar) which allows your muscles to perform work. Therefore you should strive to consume a good amount of carbohydrates so that your body has adequate glycogen reserves.

I don’t believe you should be super strict about the carbs you’re eating during Ramadan. As long as you’re eating them as part of a balanced diet and they’re not obviously crappy foods, you’ll be fine.

(By crappy, I mean the obvious candidates such as sweets, fast food, baklawa etc.)

Some good examples of carbs to eat are rice, pasta, potatoes, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, and shrimp… Banana shrimp, pineapple shrimp, shrimp sandwich (OK, ignore the shrimp part).

6. Keep your pre-workout meal light

If you’re planning on working out after iftar, keep your first meal super light. There’s nothing worse than going to the gym on a full stomach. Instead eat a light, small meal consisting of protein, carbs, and healthy fats.

An example of this could be a protein shake mixed with milk, a handful of nuts, a banana and some dates. (If youblend chocolate protein powder, milk, natural peanut butter, and a banana, it’s amazing by the way).

Though I always advocate eating ‘real’ food rather than shakes where possible, shakes come in handy if you need to hit the gym soon after eating. This is because they’re generally easily digested and light in your stomach.

After you’ve worked out, you can eat a larger meal. Again, this should consist of protein, fats, veggies and carbohydrates.

7. Make your meals count

This goes for both your first meal and at suhoor. Resist the temptation of eating sweets or junk at this time. I know it can be difficult. When families get together and everybody’s happy, it’s hard to say no.

Ferrero Rocher. Cakes. Kunafah.

Kunafah… Lord help me…

But you have to resist the temptation. Isn’t that part of what this is all about? If you’re going to be training, you need quality foods to fuel you for the long day ahead. You need some diesel in the tank for your training. So eat with performance in mind.

Of vital importance is the need for fruit and vegetables, which often gets thrown by the wayside during Ramadan. (Juicing will help you get your recommended daily amounts, and then some).

8. Drink water

Though this one is obvious, it still needs to be said. Fasting during the summer will dehydrate you. You need water for your body and brain to perform effectively. Try to sip water throughout the night and during your training session.

Just don’t overdo it as excess water will interrupt your sleep and cause you to urinate every couple of hours…

So there you have it guys. Ramadan is a great time for Muslims because it means getting closer to God, getting closer to family, and trying to become a better person.

From a training perspective however, it’s not perfect. But if you eat well and train smart, you can still make something of the situation.

Ramadan Mubarak people. I hope this helped you out, and please hit me up with any questions you may have in the meantime.

by Mustafa Tahir

Mustafa is a personal trainer and fitness guru. Find out more on his site: http://www.jumpliftsprint.com/


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