How To Optimise Your Training And Nutrition For Ramadan 2.0
It is challenging to train during Ramadan, but with a set plan it is possible.
24 May 2017
While I’ve never observed a fast like this personally, I do have plenty of experience in helping clients maintain and even make incredible fat loss progress during Ramadan!
Going without food or water for up to 18 hours is tough, so I admire anyone who can endure this especially as the weather is starting to pick up again.
What I tell all our clients prior to this is to have a plan. You don’t want to use it as an excuse not to train, as a month of no exercise and an inconsistent eating pattern can wreak havoc on any progress you may have made in the lead up to it.
Here Are My Top Tips
1. The best time to train is just after you break your fast.
However, this could mean it won’t be till 10pm till you get to the gym. Breaking the fast is typically a social occasion, so you might not want to miss out on this.
We don’t recommend training right before breaking the fast as going all day without food or water can not only be unproductive, but potentially harmful.
That being said, a few years ago I had a client train with me at 8pm and set a deadlift PB after 18 hours of fasting (without water too), so sometimes the body is capable of cool things! For most though, err on the side of caution.
When I speak to many of my Muslim clients, some prefer this option as it allows them to be with their family for the various commitments that take place after the fast has finished, without having to worry about training.
2. Try to fit 2-3 feedings in the eating window available.
This is going to depend on when you will train as well as the sunrise and sunset times for that particular year. At the time of writing this (March 2022) Ramadan in the UK will start 2nd of April and end 1st of May.
| Sunrise | Sunset April 2nd | 6:58am | 7:59pm 1st May | 5:48am | 8:56pm
This means that it would be possible for someone to get in a solid meal before sunrise (which would be ideal for those who are working regular 9-5 hours) and then the rest in the evening.
For muscle maintenance, research has shown that two protein rich meals per day can be enough to prevent muscle breakdown just as long as you are hitting 1.6-1.8g/kg/BW as well as eating sufficient calories.
This is great news for those who are consuming all of their calories in the evening as trying to fit in three feedings is not only tough on the digestive system, but can also impair your sleep which is critical during Ramadan (discussed further below).
So if you’re doing two meals, you could do 8-9pm (smaller meal with sufficient protein) and 10-11:00pm (large meal with sufficient protein).
If you want to aim for three meals, then something like 5:30am, 8:00pm and 11:00pm would work well. Remember, this strategy will only be useful for years where the sunrise starts relatively late so for most, two meals in the evening may be the most practical approach.
3. Focus on hydration.
More than anything, the inability to drink water is arguably the hardest part of Ramadan. When the fast is broken, focus on hydrating yourself as much and fast as possible. You want to aim to drink at least 2-3 litres of water in the 5-6 hours you’ve got.
You also need to be smart with water too. Based on our members' past experience, they’d recommend drinking a litre or so as soon as you break your fast, and then using it in between meals. What you want to avoid is drinking it with meals, as it can impair digestion, and make you feel very full.
Also, if you do wake up before sunrise this is an ample opportunity to get a good amount of fluid in so make sure to capitalise on this. Electrolytes can be a game changer too, especially for those wanting to train in the morning.
4. Lower your volume in the gym.
During Ramadan, stay away from high rep sets and keep everything in the 5 to 12 rep range. You want to try to get in and out of the gym in 30-45 minutes maximum. This isn’t the time to be cranking up the volume nor focusing on trying to build a lot of muscle.
Also, this could be a really good time to bring your training frequency down to something more manageable. If you’re normal schedule has you going 5 days per week then dropping down to 3 sessions would be good enough to maintain your gains over the month.
5. Don’t Panic
Many people go into Ramadan worried they’ll lose all their hard earned gains. This shouldn’t be the case. As long as you can reach your protein and calorie targets in the day while training 2 to 3 days a week, you’ll be able to at least maintain your gains.
Not only have we seen this through working with many members through this time, but research also backs this up.
“Current evidence from good, well-controlled research supports the conclusion that athletes who maintain their total energy and macronutrient intake, training load, body composition, and sleep length and quality are unlikely to suffer any substantial decrements in performance during Ramadan.”
We have spoken about the importance of sleep here and here, but when it comes to undertaking an endeavour such as Ramadan, getting enough sleep is crucial to your performance in all areas. You still need to work, care for loved ones, exercise and do all of your normal tasks during this month meaning sleep must take top priority.
If you have the luxury to select your own working hours or your job allows you to start later in the day, we advise on shifting your feeding/active windows into the evening as this will allow you to get the best of all worlds. You can train while being adequately hydrated and fed, you can partake in the evening prayers and most importantly, spend quality time with your family without worry about having to get up early the following day.
Even if you go to bed at 2-3am each evening, you can get a good 7-8 hours once you get accustomed to the new routine (the first few days will feel strange as your body adjusts to the new schedule).
What matters most here is consistency so find a sleep/wake time that works well for you and stick with it for the entire month. Remember, a lack of sleep can increase cravings and appetite when you’re eating normally so the impact this can have during Ramadan is massive.
7. Keep The Same Training Schedule
Whichever time you decide to train throughout Ramadan, do your best to keep that time the same throughout the entire month. On non-training days, that time can still be used to do something active such as a brisk walk, yoga or whatever other physical practice you enjoy.
We have outlined some potential workout times below so find what schedule suits you best.
8. Quality Nutrition
It may be tempting to really let loose in the evening meals but it would be wise to seriously limit the deep fried foods and desert and focus on the more hearty and healthy traditional meals such as shorba, haleem, dahi vada, fattoush and kebabs.
The same guidelines still apply when it comes to fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and wholegrains so nothing much should change (if you’re an RNT member of course!).
The physical and mental demands of Ramadan are already very challenging. The last thing you want during your fasting period is to be feeling extremely uncomfortable as not only will you feel terrible, but it will detract from your entire spiritual experience, defeating the purpose of the entire month.
When To Workout During Ramadan
Option 1: Training After Iftar & Maghrib
For most, this is going to be the most ideal time to train as it will allow you to rehydrate, get some nutrients into your system and hit the gym after maghrib. This works really well as the first meal after breaking a fast shouldn’t be too large anyway as the stomach’s capacity to handle a big meal is not that great after an extended period of fasting.
Opting for a protein shake or some yoghurt, some nuts and fruit (dates can work really well for those wanting to keep tradition) would do the trick nicely. Try to get at least 30-50g of protein here.
Once you get back from your workout, you can partake in the larger meal to get the rest of your calories in. From here, you can partake in the nightly prayers and spend time with family and before heading off to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Make sure to communicate your plans with your family prior to Ramadan starting so everyone is aware. Also, if you are in charge of preparing the majority of the food each day then bringing your A Game Meal Prep is pivotal!
Option 2: Training After The Main Dinner
So you tried to communicate your plans and the family just wasn’t having any of it. So what else can we do? The next best option would be to train after the main meal as you get to keep everyone happy while also being able to take care of your training.
The catch here is that after iftar and consuming the majority of your calories for the day, you may feel quite sluggish and not motivated to train. To combat this we would recommend keeping iftar more on the moderate side with an emphasis on protein and carbohydrates (to the best of your ability) while trying to keep the fats on the lower side.
This strategy could work well for those who are not engaging in Tarawih (nightly prayers) as you can just go to sleep straight after your session but if you do want to partake in the nightly prayers, then we would recommend sticking to option 1.
Option 3: Training Before Suhoor
The following would be an ideal schedule for someone who would want to exercise in the morning before suhoor. We don’t think this option would be suitable for many due to the late night prayers and socialisation throughout the month.
As mentioned above, the following would be based on Ramadan 2022 in the UK so your own specific times may vary.
As soon as you get up, aim to consume 0.75-1L of water in combination with some electrolytes and either some whey protein (15g-20g) or essential amino acids (10-15g). You will also be able to participate in the morning prayer (Fajr) before heading off to the gym.
If weight training, continue to focus on getting stronger on the core compound lifts and keeping the reps between 8-15 on most exercises.
If doing cardiovascular exercise, stick with low to moderate intensity and avoid HIIT style workouts.
Ideally, this should take up a moderate to large portion(30-40%) of your daily protein and total calories. Not only will this help keep you fuller for longer, but you will be giving your body what it needs to recover and adapt to your training too.
For your protein, opt for foods such as eggs, egg whites, salmon, chicken, yoghurt, cottage cheese, tofu, tempeh, soy mince, edamame pasta, lentils and black beans.
Some great carbohydrate sources would be fruit, oats, potatoes, sourdough bread, quinoa or anything else that contains a lot of fibre. Rice, cereal, white bread, bagels or liquids such as milk wouldn’t be the best option here due to their low fibre content.
Also, use this time to adequately hydrate and get at least another litre of water.
Iftar - Part 1
This can be a small meal that is quite easy to digest. The same example from the first situation would be just fine (protein shake with some fruit and nuts).
Iftar - Part 2
The rest of the calories will come from this meal and should be very similar to the composition of the first meal of the day. We also understand that this is a special time for many families so don’t be afraid to have some traditional dishes as well!
Ramadan is an extremely special time for 1.6 billion people around the globe and as much as we love prioritising our fitness and nutrition, it’s important to not lose sight of what this month is actually all about. Growing spiritually as a person and prioritising time with loved ones.
Hopefully the article today has given you some tips and strategies that you can use to enhance your experience and if you know anyone else who would benefit, please don’t hesitate to share!