Although greeted with joy for its spirituality, social gatherings and abundance of good food, the holy month of Ramadan comes along with its own set of challenges. Dwelling on the thought of caffeine-free, breakfast-free mornings can be quite worrisome, let alone computing more than 15 hours of fasting and fitting in a workout routine. While this may sound like something solely for the avid athletes, we kid you not, it is more than doable for everyone.
Because committing to a solid workout routine is one of the few legal things keeping many adults from going totally bonkers, we spoke to athlete and founder of Art of Sport (AOS) Youssef Salem and nutritionist Lina Ezzat to bring you the ultimate guide to keeping up with your workout routine in Ramadan.
Whether you’re an avid or average athlete, here are a few noteworthy points to bear in mind:
1. Getting Past the First Few Days
We may think it’s the long fasting hours that are so exhausting, but in fact it’s the change of routine that takes our bodies by surprise. While our bodies are perfectly capable of fully functioning on fasting mode, it’s the first few days of coping with the new routine that can get a bit frustrating.
“The body is used to receiving food at certain times and when that system changes, your body gets confused,” says Ezzat. During the first three or four days until the body starts adapting to its new routine, the metabolic rate usually drops but then returns to normal upon adaptation. “Consistently scheduling your meals is a very healthy habit that helps boost the efficiency of your digestion, metabolism and other bodily functions,” Ezzat adds.
The other reason Ramadan mornings are often lazy and low on energy, as Salem suggests, is that by the time we wake up, almost 80 per cent of the glycogen in our blood would have depleted in our body.
However, thanks to our natural ability to readjust, our bodies soon rewire their functions to put us back on track. “Even when you’re fasting, the sugar supply to your brain remains consistent,” says Ezzat. “That’s because your body starts deriving the needed sugar supply from the stored body fat.”
But what about feeling unfocused and disoriented in Ramadan? Chances are it’s all in your head. According to Ezzat, it’s scientifically proven that when we’re wired knowing that we won’t be receiving any food any time soon, our brain shuts the idea out and focuses instead of productive work.
Illusions of fatigue are likely to also extend beyond the office hours and infiltrate other areas of our lives, such as athletic workout. “Most people assume they won’t be able to work out in Ramadan before they even try,” says Salem. “It’s nothing but a mental barrier that keeps most people committing to a workout routine.”
2. Opting for the Right Nutrients
Although intermittent fasting is vastly growing popular among athletes around the world, Ramadan can be a disastrous trap in the absence of a proper nutrition plan. Whether you want to lose weight, get back to sports or maintain your health and fitness status, you need to start by properly fueling your body.
In fact, even when you haven’t been cautious with the quality of food intake, Ramadan can be your chance to turn over a new leaf and cleanse your body of any lingering toxins. With long hours of fasting and fixed meal times, it’s as if your entire body is on a break from constantly processing food, which gives it a chance to detox and cleanse itself, boosting the general efficiency both internally and externally.
We all yearn for a tasty Iftar after the long wait, but how about preparing a tasty and healthy meal? Make sure your Iftar contains proteins, carbohydrates, essential fats, and essential amino acids. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can rely on plant-based alternatives to compensate for the needed minerals and other nutrients.
Remember though, no matter how hungry and eager you are for Iftar, you definitely want to steer away from speed eating. “When you eat too much too fast, you shock your liver, kidneys, stomach, and basically your entire system,” says Ezzat. “Your body cannot process that much food in such a short time.”
When it comes to Sohour, Ezzat reminds you to keep it simple, light, and mostly hydrating. The common misconception of overeating to store it for the next day completely defies the very essence of fasting, eating moderately, and giving your body a proper break. Among the top picks she suggests are yoghurt, cucumbers, and lettuce.
While eating mindfully is bound to make fasting not only easier but healthier as well, drinking enough water can be the real deal breaker. Not only is vital for physical activity, it’s also important for digestion, filtration of the kidneys, as well as keeping the body from absorbing toxins. Try to drink at least three liters of water, with an additional 0.65 liters for every hour of physical exercise.
3. The Best Time for Exercising
One of the best ways to kick-start your day on high note is by getting down to some early morning exercises, unless of course it’s Ramadan, which then means a day’s worth of dehydration and extreme fatigue. While you’re reshuffling your schedule to fit the fasting hours, you need to consider the kind of workout you plan on doing.
Exercises can generally be classified under either cardio and high intensity training or weight lifting. “When it comes to weightlifting, it is highly inadvisable to schedule it before iftar,” Salem stresses. “As you get into a metabolic state, your muscles begin to break down, which requires protein intake that nourishes the muscles. Otherwise, you may risk losing muscle mass.”
On the other hand though, a cardio workout can reap better results shortly before Iftar. “Ideally, you can schedule your workout for the 45 minutes before Iftar,” Ezzat explains. “The reason this is the golden timing for cardio workout is that it makes the most of the metabolic window where you can finish your workout and have the opportunity to shortly afterwards supply it with the needed proteins and carbs.”
Furthermore, seeing how your body spends the full duration of the fasting hours burning blood sugar and fat, warming up will be almost unnecessary. “Instead of warming up for 20 minutes to burn glucose, your body jumps right into burning fat,” Ezzat adds.
It is very important though to factor in any health conditions you have. In case of diabetes for instance, Ezzat encourages having a small meal, exercising, then resuming the food course afterwards.
4. Sticking to Your Routine
“Ramadan is just like any other time of the year – if you want to commit to a workout routine, then you’ll simply commit to it,” says Salem. However, there are a few tricks he suggests can help you stick to your dream workout plan.
In recent years, the notion of an athletic community has grown quite expansive and diverse in the Middle East. “Being part of an athletic community turns it into an outing of sorts rather than merely exercising,” Salem suggests.
Once you’ve picked a favorable class or group to join, he notes the importance of working according to a program that has room for smooth progress. “When you find that you’re in progress, no matter how slow that is, you will be encouraged to go back for more,” he adds.
Whatever method works out better for you, don’t hesitate to go for it as long as it keeps you motivated and moving.
5. Advice from the Pros
At the faintest hint of progress, sports can be very encouraging to go the extra mile. However, Salem warns against overworking yourself by adding extra hours of practice or practicing twice a day. “If you want to raise your bar, do so before Ramadan,” says Salem. “During Ramadan, just try to maintain your fitness level.”
But when it comes to the food, athletes may fall into two groups – one that puts in the extra effort to burn the extra intake of yummy, irresistible foods and another that seizes the grand opportunity of weight loss. “It’s really about what you want to do,” Ezzat comments.
That being said, it’s high time you got rid of those misleading thoughts about not exercising during Ramadan. Meanwhile, you should get those running shoes ready!
*All workout photos are courtesy of AOS