• James Heath

Ramadan and how to perform at your best



Introduction

The holy month of Ramadan is a period of worship, spirituality and self-reflection for Muslims across the world. It is a very special time for individuals to fast and refrain from consuming food and drink from dawn until sunset. This alone is challenging to say the least, but if you’re looking to perform at your best and look after your health and fitness during Ramadan, it is important to plan.


Dehydration

The most important factor to consider (especially if living in a hot climate and exercising) is dehydration. If you’re not drinking enough fluid, then increasing dehydration will negatively affect every cellular process in the body. Strength and performance in the gym will seriously suffer with as little as 2% dehydration. Look out for the symptoms which can have potentially serious consequences:

  • Headaches

  • Increased or decreased appetite

  • Confusion

  • Drowsiness

  • Tiredness

  • Dizziness

  • Lethargy

  • Fever

  • Seizures

Aim to drink 2-3 litres between Iftar and Suhur. Don’t drink too quickly before bed as you’ll likely need the toilet which will disturb your sleep. Electrolyte drinks such as coconut water can increase absorption rates due to improved osmosis in the gut, in addition to providing trace minerals lost through sweat, such as potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. Drinks at room temperature will also absorb better as opposed to ice cold drinks.


Sleep

Fasting will affect your normal daily routine. It will affect when and how long you sleep for. Like dehydration, inadequate sleep will negatively affect the following:

  • Appetite and hunger

  • Mood and emotions

  • Energy and recovery

  • Concentration

  • Decreased performance (work/ gym)

  • Increased fatigue, drowsiness and mental fog

  • Slower reactions speeds

  • Increased likelihood of an accident (remember to drive slower)

Try your best to achieve a minimum of 6-7 hours a day. Those working could split sleep cycles into 2 separate daily phases to capitalise on, reduced working hours and the non-fasting period between Iftar and Sufur.


Exercise

During the fasting month your body will be under increased stress and therefore choosing to add more stress in the form of exercise/training must be done intelligently. Exercise prescription will vary on individual factors such as, sleep, exercise history, nutrient intake, work and other lifestyle commitments. Exercise needs to be at a level you can recover from. Don’t be alarmed if that means you are exercising for shorter periods of time, fewer times a week. Don’t expect to be breaking any personal-bests or stacking on pounds of muscle. The focus is not to lose any muscle or fitness.


High intensity*

Effective whole-body strength training, 3 times a week, for 30-45 minutes is a great way to keep stress down and maintain strength/muscle. Additionally, a 10 or 20-minute-high intensity interval training session can be a very effective way to train the cardiovascular system in a short space of time. This can free up more time to sleep, eat and recover. Be aware that you are more likely to injure yourself with higher intensity training, especially if you are unskilled, underfed and under recovered. However, understand that with the right program design, exercise selection and execution you can get an awful lot done with high intensity program design.


Low intensity*

Lower intensity exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga and rehabilitation work is less stressful on your body, easier to recover from and arguably, more practical during a month of fasting and decreased sleep. Capitalizing on this form of training can be a great way to fix issues, weaknesses or chronic injuries hindering progress. You may lose more muscle and strength but in the long run may be in better standing because you’ve removed previous weaknesses previously holding you back.


*It is likely that you will need the help of good professional to get the most out of your training.


Food

If looking for optimal health and body composition the aim is to try your best to consume the same quantities, quality and ratios of food on a normal day outside Ramadan. However naturally these will vary in addition to meal frequency.

The quantity of food you eat will be specific to your body weight and fat percentage (in other words your lean body mass) and your desired goal.

  • Lose weight = calorie deficit

  • Gain weight = calorie surplus

  • Maintain weight = balance your calorie intake with your bodies’ energy expenditure

Quality

After a prolonged period of fasting, with your blood sugar low and appetite high it may be very tempting to indulge in foods that won’t benefit your body, your health or your performance in the gym. On the flip side, if you have a smaller window to consume food due to fasting in the day, Ramadan can be a rare period to enjoy higher energy dense foods that maybe otherwise off the menu on a normal day (smoothies and cookies!).


Macros

The key is to ensure you are hitting the right thresholds for macro and micro nutrients, is to provide your body with what it needs to function, perform and recover. If you hit the right macro nutrients, then you will hit the right number of calories (energy balance) depending on your goal.


Try to keep your protein intake high (1.6 – 2.2g/ kg of body weight) to offset the negative impact of muscle protein loss during the fast, especially if engaging in exercise. Consuming fat is a great way to consume more calories in a sorter space of time (9kcal per gram). Consuming quick releasing sugars can help provide your body with digestible energy if you are short on time before the gym.


Example

The following plans provide accurate examples:

Meal plan A
  • 80kg male with 15% body fat

  • Aim is to maintain the same weight

  • Will sleep once for 5 to 6 hours at night

3.30am - before Fajar

  • 220g ribeye steak (uncooked weight) cooked in 5ml of olive oil

  • Have with 1 medium avocado and 200-300g of green vegetables

  • 500ml of water

7pm – Iftar

  • Consume 3 dates with 300ml of full fat milk and 1 scoop of whey protein powder

7.30pm – whole body strength session

  • During the session drink 1 litre of water.

8.15pm – post workout

  • 1 apple with 300ml of full fat milk and 1 scoop of whey protein powder

9.45pm - ­before bed

  • Consume 250g (uncooked weight) steamed salmon

  • Have with 200g of green vegetables and 200g of potato.

  • Drink 500ml of water.

10.30pm – sleep 5-6 hours

  • Total daily kcal = 2500

  • Total daily net protein = 170g

  • Total daily net fats = 120g

  • Total daily net carbohydrates = 130g

Meal plan B
  • 60kg female with 30% body fat

  • The aim is to reduce weight

  • Will sleep 2 sets of 3 to 4 hours sleeps in the afternoon before Iftar and at night

3.30am - before Fajar

  • 150g (uncooked weight) baked salmon fillet

  • Have with 60g of white rice and add 5g of butter

  • Drink 500ml of water

3pm – sleep for 3 hours

7pm – Iftar

  • Consume 3 dates and 200ml of semi-skimmed milk (2% fat)

7.30pm – 45-minute yoga class

  • During the session drink 1.5 liters of water.

8.30pm – meal 2

  • 150g (uncooked weight) chicken breast cooked in 5g of olive oil

  • Have with 150g of green vegetables with 10g of butter and salt and pepper

  • Have with 60g of white rice (uncooked weight)

  • Drink 500ml of water

10pm – meal 3

  • 150g (uncooked weight) cod/ haddock/plaice/tuna fillet steamed

  • 150g of green vegetables with 10g of butter and salt and pepper

  • Drink 500ml of water.

11.30pm – Bed

  • Total daily kcal = 1400

  • Total daily net protein = 110g

  • Total daily net fats = 45g

  • Total daily net carbohydrates = 140g

Summary

Your calorie intake is unique to you, your goals and your daily routine. Be aware it may take a few days to settle into this new routine and re-set new sleeping habits. Your body cannot function properly without being hydrated, ingesting the correct nutrients and good sleep. The start and end of Ramadan will most likely be a stressful situation as your mind and body adapts to make the adjustments. Take it easy for the first day or two and postpone exercise until you’re on top of these factors. Be organised, disciplined and stick to an ordered daily routine to keep your body focused and happy.


If you want help achieving your health, fitness and physique goals during Ramadan or throughout the year, speak to me Jim at The Gym Method.