Most people see the blessed month of Ramadan as a time when they will lose strength and muscle mass. Strength training can be hard during this religious period of fasting, and some might use the season as an excuse to stop training altogether. Yet, this does not have to be so. The human body is very proficient at adapting to new stressors, and this applies to training in a fasted state as well.
While the desire to adhere to a fitness regimen during the month of Ramadan is commendable, the last thing you would want is to go into this with your eyes half-open. Here are some common mistakes you’d want to avoid at all costs:
1. Lack of proper planning
A poorly thought-out plan will be your biggest downfall if you intend to train while fasting. This includes setting smart goals for yourself. Are you looking to maintain your current physique, put on muscle mass, or lose fat? You only have one rump, so don’t try to ride all your horses at once. Whichever you choose, it will need be supported by decisions and actions in real life, which is where the importance of balance comes into play. Yes – you don’t want to fall off the wagon during Ramadan, but remember that it IS a holy month after all.
2. Skipping suhoor
The pre-dawn meal of suhoor is eaten in the early morning prior to the commencement of the fajr prayer. While some opt to skip this in order to get more sleep, this would be a terrible mistake for the Muslim athlete. Considering that is the only meal you’d get prior to the day-long fast, missing it out on it would put your body at a terrible disadvantage when training rolls around. Having suhoor as and when you feel like it won’t cut it either; your body ends up having to adapt to a constantly varying situation which yields little to no benefit.
3. Insufficient sustenance and poor sleeping routine
Food is energy and if you don’t eat enough you’ll lack the energy to have a good training session in the gym, much less recover from it. When the time comes to break your fast, make sure that you consume enough calories. You can space your meals apart to prevent bloating, but don’t end up skimping on the portions too much! Also, short nights can cause sleep deprivation which can kill your motivation to hit the gym. Mid-day naps can be useful in this regard.
How should I exercise during Ramadan?
The general recommendation is to decrease both volume and intensity during the first week of fasting as your body gets accustomed to the month of Ramadan. Once you feel more well-adjusted, you can try bringing things back up to normal and see how you respond. If the results are poor, consider using Ramadan as your “deload month” and work on other things such as technique, conditioning and speed instead.
According to Craig Weller, Precision Nutrition’s Exercise Systems and High-Risk Occupations Program Director, you shouldn't feel down in the dumps if you gave your workouts a miss during the first week of Ramadan. “Some people will be fine, others will need to ease in. Maybe you’re extra tired or more dehydrated than you’re comfortable with. Maybe you lose some muscle or don’t recover as well, but it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter anything worse than short-term discomfort and inconvenience. It’s not the best time to compete at a high level, but otherwise it’ll just be a speed bump and one more stressor to grow accustomed to.”
The one thing you’d want to think twice about doing is going for personal bests when you’re fasting. Granted that progress in the weight room can be achieved during Ramadan, you must realise that the overarching goal is to be able to sustain a regular amount of training activity throughout the fasting month. To jeopardise that for a few extra kilograms or repetitions would be a risky endeavour.
What you can push for is to work on your training density – try to get your work done with as little time wasted as possible. Shoot for training durations of no more than an hour in order to stay focused and driven. You can also employ a greater amount of training variety than you usually do to keep things fresh and exciting!
While it is important to stay active, remember to take Ramadan as an opportunity to remind you of the importance of treating yourself and others with kindness, and to allow yourself to step back from training to focus on other areas of your life that you may have been recently neglecting. This time of the year is meant to be spent and enjoyed with your loved ones, so don’t worry if it means having to miss out on a training session or two!