How to Stay Fit in Ramadan and Not Lose Gains

 

So, this Ramadan is the perfect time for a break from training and eating. Good Lord, especially from the eating.

 

The intensity (how heavy you are lifting) will still be high – the weights should feel heavy – but not as high as outside Ramadan.

Why not drop the intensity as well?

Without going into the science, you want to tell your body, “listen, I need to use these muscles, so don’t get rid of them.”

Lifting heavy will do that for you.

Otherwise, your body will think you don’t need the muscle and reduce their size, because muscle mass burns a ton of calories and your body is trying to conserve as much energy as possible.

When to Train?

I have a barbell and dumbbells at home so I can train after iftar, between maghrib and isha, if I want to, using bodyweight movements and free weights.

If your workout is short, training after iftar is a good option because you’ve been fed and watered, and can drink water or a protein shake while training.

If you have to get to a gym to train, my advice in the main blog post stands – the logistics make it difficult and impractical.

In this case, you will train 45-60 minutes before iftar and break your fast soon after training.

What to eat, and how much?

To be honest, I’m sick of food right now, so I am just going to eat one moderately sized meal (dinner) and drink a 3-scoop protein shake (during or after training.)

At suhoor, I’ll probably just drink water. Maybe eat a few dates. Iftar will be the same, but with more fruit.

If you’ve seen the studies on the health benefits of fasting, the participants were eating well under 1000 kCals on fasting days.

The 2-days-a-week fasting protocal has you eating 500-600 kCals on fasting days.

[Side note: Muslims sharing “health benefits of fasting articles” should be called out for being dummies because a) many Muslims eat 5-7x that amount per day during Ramadan and b) those studies were on participants who could drink water and other calorie-free beverages.]

Can you manage that for 30-days? You won’t know until you try it. I may update this post with my results.

The good thing about eating so little is you need much less sleep, which is great during Ramadan because you can manage the extra night prayers better.

If you can’t handle eating so little, just have full meals at dinner and breakfast.

If you train before iftar, have your protein shake after taraweeh. If you train after iftar, have your shake at iftar or while training.

This is the end of my update. The original post continues after the opt-in box.

Get Your Priorities Right

Let’s get this out of the way.

Your priority during Ramadan is worshiping Allah to the best of your ability.

The validity of your worship is contingent on the validity of your intention (niyyah.)

Our intention during Ramadan needs to be directed to Allah alone.

If you have specific fitness goals (lose weight, burn fat, gain muscle…whatever) during Ramadan, your intention could be diluted.1

The more diluted the intention, the lower the reward for fasting.

If we aren’t careful, our fasting could be completely invalid in Allah’s eyes.

Bout Dat Life

That said, for many of us, strength training is a lifestyle choice.

One that we want to maintain during Ramadan.

The problem — how do we do it in a way that makes Ramadan the primary focus, not lifting and eating.

How do I, as a working family man who lifts, maintain my normal routine during this month?

While looking for advice on Ramadan training and nutrition, I found a lot of resources.

Sadly they were all terrible.

Many articles were written by non-Muslims who don’t fast. They don’t know how lifting fits in with our lifestyle and intent during Ramadan.

Those written by Muslims get the context but have several issues:

  • You wonder whether they even follow their own advice and if they do, how they manage to get through the day
  • It’s obvious that these people aren’t lifters
  • The advice is totally impractical for anyone who maintains a normal work-life schedule
  • They point to scientific literature on the health benefits of fasting when most Muslims aren’t “fasting” according to the parameters of these studies
  • Some of these people fast, but don’t pray — this affects the advice they give

I provide examples below.

That’s why I’m writing this article.

What I’m about to tell you is my personal experience of training during Ramadan for the past three years.

Keep the context in mind — I work a corporate job, have a family, try to pray taraweeh/tahajjud (extra night prayers) AND I’m a novice powerlifter/weightlifter.

This article is written for people like me.

If you don’t have to work during the day and can sleep all day, this article is not for you.

If you don’t pray taraweeh/tahajjud, or you don’t pray at all, this article is not for you.

If your thing is cardio or Crossfit, this article is not for you.

Capiche?

Ok, let’s continue.

Dem Gainz Ain’t Loyal

The good news is that you’re not going to shrivel up like Christian Bale in the Machinist.

The bad news is that if you do Ramadan right (i.e. not binge eating) you will be in a caloric deficit the entire month.

That means you will lose muscle.

We can try to maintain as much muscle as possible by lifting and eating right.

However, this can’t come at the expense of our primary objectives in Ramadan.

And it can’t come at the expense of our daily routine if we don’t have a choice.

That’s why the advice out there right now is so bad, and you’ll understand why soon.

strength training ramadan
Chuck Sipes. Source

The Ramadan Day/Night

The times are for the 1st of Ramadan.

I only include Fajr (dawn prayer,) Maghrib (sunset prayer)and Isha(night prayer,) because they are what determine our eating and sleeping.

Dubai

  • Fajr — 4:09 am
  • Magrib — 7:09 pm
  • Isha — 8:39 pm

London

  • Fajr — 2:46 am
  • Magrib — 9:17 pm
  • Isha — 10:35 pm

New York

  • Fajr — 3:47 am
  • Magrib — 8:25 pm
  • Isha — 10:04 pm

Sydney

  • Fajr — 5:26 am
  • Magrib — 4:24 pm
  • Isha — 6:17 pm

Look at the Dubai times for a moment.

We break the fast (iftar) at 7:09 pm.

By the time Maghrib finishes the earliest we get home is 7:45 pm.

That leaves one hour until Isha adhan (call to prayer) and we need to go back out for Isha and Taraweeh.

That means we’ll be back between 10:30 and 11:00 pm. Later, if the Imam is any good.

That leaves 4–5 hours of sleep before we wake up and eat breakfast (suhoor.)

Keep these timings in mind.

Bad and Worse Advice

So now we’ve got an idea of the types of Suhoor, Iftar and Taraweeh times will be, let’s look at popular advice.

 

Bad Ramadan Strength Training Advice #1: Mehdi

Mehdi’s a well-known fitness blogger and his Strong Lifts 5×5 program is popular.

Example schedule during Ramadan:

7 pm: lift weights. 3–4 compound exercises for 1-hour max.

9 pm: breaking fast. Proteins & carbs. Pasta, tomato sauce, ground round.

10 pm: proteins & carbs. Example: tuna, brown rice, pineapple.

11 pm: a light pre-bed meal. Cottage cheese, berries, ground flax seeds.

11:30 pm: bedtime

3:30 am: breakfast: eggs, veggies, meat. Back in bed after 1st prayer.

7 am: wake up, get ready for work

1pm: 30mins nap

5pm: 1 hour nap pre-workout

Sounds good, right?

…I won’t do Ramadan since I’m atheist…

So Mehdi hasn’t tried his own eating and training schedule during Ramadan.

Look at the meal times.

Except for Fajr, he doesn’t account for the fact that we have to pray at all.

Still, the suggested workout time means you’ll at least get a decent amount of sleep.

Ramadan Bodybuilding
Bad Ramadan Strength Training Advice #2: Scooby

Everyone knows Scooby. If you don’t, you’re not a lifter.

Scooby’s not Muslim and I doubt he’s fasted during Ramadan or lifted while fasting.

Ramadan Workout Time Scooby

Optimally, I would suggest working out right after Fajr when you are rested, fully hydrated, and have food in your system. If that’s not possible, next best, in my opinion, would be to wait until after Maghrib, have a small handful of dates with lots of water (a few liters), workout, and then have your full meal.

So, he wants you to do a strength training workout and then spend the rest of the day (15 hours) in a tired, dehydrated stupor?

If you squat, deadlift and bench then just stick to those three exercises and make a simple 45-minute full body workout you can do three times a week.

Or he wants you to fit in a 45 minute, full-body barbell workout in between Maghrib & Isha?

I don’t know about you, but takes me 45 minutes just to get in the gym, warm up, and work up to the first working set of my first movement!

My workouts last 1:30 hrs minimum.

And what about travel time to-and-from the gym?

Weightlifting in Ramadan
Emirati weightlifter Amna Al Haddad snatching. 

Bad Ramadan Strength Training Advice #3: Amna Al-Haddad

Amna is a professional Emirati weightlifter and Crossfitter.

The goal for many who train in Ramadan is to reduce body fat to maintain or gain strength through preserving lean muscle mass. If you thought that was not possible during Ramadan, you thought wrong. However, it is important to be in possession of all the information.

Err, no.

That’s not our goal in Ramadan.

It’s also bro science.

A, You’re not getting stronger unless you’re adding weight to the bar.

To recover from adding weight to the bar, allowing you to continue adding weight to the bar, you need to be in a caloric surplus.

Good luck eating a caloric surplus during Ramadan unless you want to stuff yourself until you have biryani coming out of your ears.

And B, you’re not getting leaner unless you’re in a caloric deficit.

If you’re in a caloric deficit, good luck getting stronger or maintaining your lean mass.

Personally, as an athlete, I have had success in the past three years training a few hours after Iftar and have not had any dizzy spells, loss of strength or weight gain during Ramadan.

Which is fine — I assume she trains after taraweeh. (husn adh-dhann)

Keep in mind she’s a professional athlete. Lifting is her job.

She doesn’t have the same schedule we do.

When does she sleep? When does she get her meals in?

Weightlifting workouts take a long time to complete.

She probably stays up at night, training and eating, and sleeps during the day.

Not practical for us.

Ramadan training and nutrition
Rehan Jalali, nutritionist and natural bodybuilder. 

Worst Advice Ever: Rehan Jalali

Rehan Jalali is the President of the Supplement Research Foundation.

He is a nationally recognized Certified Sports Nutritionist (C.S.N.) who has developed over 100 cutting edge products for the dietary supplement industry.

Here’s his Ramadan training advice.

This is where you really want to facepalm.

First, there’re his supplement heavy suggestions.

You should also eat some quality protein at time as well. I would first recommend three dates. For men, I recommend a meal replacement protein powder like Protein Rush from VPX Sports, Lean Body by Labrada, or Eat-Smart MRP from iSatori and for women, one scoop of a protein powder like Pro-Blend 55, Eat-Smart MRP from iSatori, and Low Carb protein from MRM. Of course, drink plenty of water — in fact, keep a water bottle with you at all times after sunset! Then 1–1.5 hours later have a food meal (or follow the schedule above for cardio). Then during, depending if you pray 8 or 20 , have a protein bar (like Power Crunch) or ready-to-drink protein shake in the middle (not if you are praying of course!); or you can have another small protein and complex carbohydrate meal after the 8 If you have a protein bar, drink plenty of water and then go train for about 30–45 minutes. For women, you can actually do 20 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of weight training at this time. For men, you can take a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) product like BCAA-G from MRM before, during and right after the workout to preserve lean muscle. After the workout, also have another nutrition shake with plenty of water.

Then there’s the bro science.

Eating small meals at night can trick your body into speeding up metabolic rate (not to mention increase nutrient absorption and stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels). Your body loves homeostasis and wants to maintain a certain balance — you literally have to shock it constantly to lose fat and gain muscle over the long run!

Then there’s the fact that he doesn’t have a day job.

…After the workout, have another Nutrition Shake — lots of water of course. Then sleep 45 minutes later or stay up all night eating and working!

Now, to be fair, there’s some useful advice in his article.

It’s just horribly impractical for anyone with a normal daily schedule.

And Jalali’s physique and credentials make it so that people won’t look too closely at his advice.

Exercise in Ramadan
Anatoly Pisarenko

Ok, so what’s your solution, Nabeel?

There are two problems with the above advice — recovery, and practicality.

Recovery

You don’t make gains by lifting weights. You make gains by recovering from lifting weights.

Optimizing for sleep is the most important consideration.

Practicality

They make it sound like lifting before iftar will send you straight into rhabdo.

There’s also the fact that it’s almost impossible to get your macros in if you train after taraweeh, unless you stay up all night eating.

Finally the 30–45-minute workout suggestion is ridiculous, given the time constraints.

Unless you train at home and your masjid is next door, you’re going to need and hour-and-a-half to two hours, minimum.

And that’s only if you do something like calisthenics or a body-part split, and cutting your workout short.

The only practical option for an observant Muslim is to train before iftar.

Ok, so here’s what you do.

Train before breaking your fast. Eat, pray and sleep at night.

  • Train 2 hours before iftar. I usually pray Asr and head to the gym. By the time I’m done, get home and shower, it’s almost time to break fast.
  • Break your fast as normal. I do dates, assorted fruit, probiotic yogurt and water.
  • Go pray magrib.
  • Eat dinner when you come back. I usually do a salad or brocolli, and fatty meat. I skip carbs or keep them low because I don’t want to feel drowsy during taraweeh.
  • Go pray isha and taraweeh.
  • Eat a second dinner when you come back. I usually do a protein shake with added fat and carbs.
  • Sleep.
  • For suhoor, eat a complete meal with protein, fat, and carbs. I usually do eggs, buttered bread, and another protein shake.
  • Get 2–3 liters of water by downing 500 mL at a time spaced out over the evening and on waking up.
  • Get a nap or two in during the day if you can.

Why does this routine work best?

  • You have enough time to actually get a decent workout in.
  • You have the longest possible eating window after training.
  • You maximize your sleep at night. Add a nap during the day and you’re adequately rested.

Now, if you’re not used to training fasted you need to take it easy at first.

But your body will adjust quickly.

You may also have to adjust your routine so you don’t beat your body up too much.

Professional Advice

While researching this article I spoke to Alexander J.A. Cortes, a trainer and fitness writer.

I wanted to bounce some ideas off him to see if my routine had any merit with an expert on training and nutrition.

I know my method works because I’ve tested it for three years on myself.

I’m including his advice here because I’m not a professional.

Note: this discussion took place on Twitter. The original tweets have since been deleted, so I am only going to quote his answers

On fasted training

It requires some context, but it’s not inherently “bad” so long as total daily nutrition is accounted for.

General advice for Ramadan training

Reasonably, you could maintain strength/size, or even practice a barbell lift that you’ve neglected.

On the Evening Training Recommendation

I’ve heard the evening suggestion as well, impractical Protein load in the evening for recovery.

Alex didn’t know that we can’t drink water while fasting

One thing that can make a major difference is hydration Drinking potassium/sodium mix the whole day.

This is what he said when I informed him.

It’s an important point and puts Ramadan training in perspective.

Oh hell, never mind that. Training is going To be catabolic no matter how you do it.

His advice on training intensity and volume

You keep it at 70-80%. 3×5, 5×5 would be workable. Take 3 minutes rest between sets, maybe do one other movement for light weight, blood flow.

Your Workouts: High Intensity, Low Volume

I do Rippetoe’s Starting Strength because it’s a simple, full-body program.

If you don’t know what that is, 3 workouts a week, alternating between:

  • Squat, press, power clean
  • Squat, bench press, deadlift

You do 3 sets of 5. Power cleans are 5 sets of 3. Deadlifts are 1 set of 5.

Because the reps are low you don’t sweat as much. That keeps the dehydration and thirst manageable.

There are two ways you can adjust this for Ramadan:

  • Reduce your working weights by 10–20%. Add weight to the bar if you feel good and take small jumps.
  • Do 1 work set instead of 3. Some days you’ll feel more lethargic than others, particularly towards the end of the month.

You don’t have to do Starting Strength. You can do any program you like e.g. Bill Starr’s 5×5, Wendler’s 5/3/1, the Cube Method etc.

But you have to keep in mind that you are weaker and have less work capacity while fasting. Adjust your workout accordingly.

Your Nutrition: Get Your Calories in

Whether you train before or after iftar, you are going to have a hard time hitting your macro numbers.

Especially if you are a large person.

Let’s use me as an example.

I’m going to use Alan Aragon’s formulas to save time.

Alan Aragon’s Total Energy Expenditure Formula

  • Daily calories = Target bodyweight in pounds * (weekly training hours + activity multiplier)
  • Protein = Target bodyweight number in grams
  • Fat = Half the target bodyweight number in grams
  • Carbohydrates = {Daily calories — [(Protein * 4) + (Fat * 9)]} / 4

Activity multiplier:

  • 9 — light exercise 3–5 days/week
  • 10 — moderate exercise 3–5 days/week
  • 11 — hard exercise 6–7 days/week

This is how it looks for me:

  • Calories = 200 * (6 + 11) = 3400 kCal (I’m using 11 because it better to overestimate calorie requirements than start too low; we can always adjust down accordingly)
  • Protein = 200 grams
  • Fat = 100 grams
  • Carbohydrates = {3400 — [(200 * 4) + (100 * 9)]} / 4 = 425 grams

That’s if you’re cutting!

So I have 3 meals to try to get 3400 calories in, AND hit my macros.

Impossible.

That’s why the night-time training advice sounds so bogus.

Here’s what I suggest.

Eat calorie dense foods BUT you have to optimize your nutrition for taraweeh/tahajjud.

Do not restrict your food choices.

Just eat strategically so that you can get your ibaadah in.

In my case, I consume the majority of my daily carbs after taraweeh.

I find that’s what works best for staying alert during taraweeh.

Sample day of eating:

Breaking fast

  • Plate of mixed fruit
  • Probiotic yogurt
  • Water before and after magrib

Dinner 1

  • Large salad or brocolli
  • Half a chicken
  • Water before and after isha

Dinner 2

  • Protein shake with ice cream bananas, berries and peanut butter

Breakfast

  • Water on waking up
  • Scrambled eggs with cheese (cooked in coconut oil)
  • Buttered toast
  • Protein shake in water
How to strength train in Ramadan
Bill Kazmeier and John Pall Sigmarsson

This isn’t hypothetical

This is how I’ve been training and eating the past three years.

I don’t have any pictures to show you results but I’m able to maintain my strength, minimize muscle loss, and lose a significant amount of fat.

If you decide to try this routine out let me know how you do in the comments.

Internet fitness gurus love to make training and nutrition more complicated than they really are.

This Ramadan, keep them as simple as you can so that you can focus on what’s really important.

Article from becomingthealphamuslim.com

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