During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. Thus, Muslim athletes would be highly concerned about maintaining their muscle mass and performance during this Holy Month. As a non-Muslim, I couldn’t truly say that I have experienced fasting and I that I know how to maintain muscle mass while fasting. However, I’ve interviewed some of my friends who practice fasting and are top competitive athletes. And here are their recommendations.
Thara Begum Yeo
First and foremost, it is important to note that the changes I’m making to my training and nutrition are what I feel suited for myself in the month of Ramadhan and might vary from individual to individual.
Let’s address my training routine first. My training time will be around 9 pm during the month of Ramadhan. Personally I feel, it is impossible to put on size during this month, so the best I can do for myself is to maintain/keep whatever gains I’ve made from the past months. My main goal in each workout is then to let blood flow into the exercised muscles and feel the ‘pump’ without overtraining (or training until failure). My training frequency will be about 4-5 times in a week, about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour each time.
With regards to my nutrition, I will still ensure that my body receive enough macronutrients to hold my current muscle mass. This means that I will still break my fast with lean meat and complex carbohydrates and the same meal-plan after my workout at night. For the last meal before I start my fast, I will definitely include a serving of casein and a big bowl of steel cut oats. Most importantly, our muscles consist of 75% water, hence it is important to keep myself hydrated as much as possible. This means I will be drinking water (if possible with some sea salt to hold the water) when I break fast and when I start the fast. Occasionally, I will include watermelon to help keep myself hydrated, and to satisfy my sweet tooth as well.
Train hard, be consistent, be humble, and put your faith in God.
There are actually a few changes made to my diet and training but some principles stay the same.
Let’s talk about changes in diet. Most Muslims feast and drink upon break fast. Eating lots and lots of food at one serving. This is the usual way sedentary human beings do when they break fast. They will eat whatever they want and wait for an hour before workout but to realise they cannot perform the way they expected of themselves. This is due to the fact that energy is needed to break down those food before it can be used as fuel. Having an empty stomach for more than 12 hours and suddenly a whole lot of food poured in, the digestive system is shocked. Digestive system is like car engine. They need to be warmed up before they can function efficiently. Hence, that explains why I ingest small meals/shakes for the first break fast and then slowly introduce solid food into the body.
Below is an exact diet plan that works for me and have been doing it for some time. Try it to see if it works for you.
2 scoops protein (50g protein)
1 big banana (33g carbs)
4 arabian dates(30g carbs)
Total protein: 50g Total carbs: 63g (mostly sugars)
Wait for 1 hour and have your training which is to be done within an hour. Train with about 15g-20g of BCAA + 2 litre of water. This amount of water will be sufficient to keep you hydrated throughout. In my opinion, there is no need for any preworkout drink. Training will be short burst and that doesnt need so much taurine etc. Save it for next month instead.
After training, drink another small dosage of protein shake. Hence, 1 scoop whey with 250ml of water will be fine. Wait for another 30 minutes for your epic meal.
What is an epic meal? It is the biggest meal before you go to sleep. 30 minutes after your training, eat the following:
1 whole chicken
200g-250g of uncooked rice
2 tablespoon of coconut oil
500ml of plain water
11pm (Before you sleep)
5 whole eggs 1 tablespoon of coconut oil 500ml of plain water
Half a chicken
500ml of plain water
The meals above, all essential macronutrients and micronutrients are ingested accordingly.
Training during the first 2 weeks of Ramadhan can be easy for some Muslims but towards the 3rd and 4th week, it is almost impossible to lift the same weights before Ramadhan. So, how to maximize muscle mass and strength? We will break it up into three parts: duration, intensity and frequency
It is infeasible to train more than 1 hour during Ramadhan. Speaking from experience, you will lose focus halfway due to insufficient food and more importantly, water. With insufficient food and still you train long and hard, body will slowly eat into the muscles for fuel and energy. This sliently sabotages your effort without you knowing. Adding to insufficient food, if not enough protein is being fed to the body, muscles cannot repair and this results in body fatigue. External factors like dehydration and about 4-5hrs of sleep every night make matters worse. With all these combined factors, my best advice is to listen to your body. Only you know your body best.
Hence, after years of experimenting and prudent documentation, 30-45mins of workout is enough to maintain muscle mass and strength. This can be easily achieved by having rest time as short as 30 seconds. Try to have a 1 day training, 2 days off method or 2 days training, 2 days off. Each major muscle group workout must include a compound exercise which you can lift the heaviest and then the rest of the exercises to be 15-30reps for 4 sets.
So, Put your ego aside, drop the weights and focus on your form and activation of the respective muscle groups; muscle mind connection. During this intense moment, squeeze your muscles as hard as possible for maximum muscle activation.
Try to limit cardio to once a week as we do not want to sweat. Drink more water.
Fasting does have very good effects on our body physically, mentality and spiritually. We cannot expect to be massive during the month of Ramadan. We also cannot expect to build muscle during the month of Ramadhan because we are already in a catabolic state. There is not at all an anabolic state.
We bound to lose muscle mass to a certain extent no matter what we do. However, we must bear in mind we do this for the sake of our religion and God. Hence, God will reward us accordingly. Stay positive even when we see our body shrink. It is only a month, 30 days. We still have 335 more days to train.
Good luck, Amirrudin Ong
Shahanizar Bin Johar
I’ll break my fast at around 7.15pm. First thing I down will be whey. 2 scoops mix with plain glucose. Need something fast digesting after about 13 hours of fast. After around 20 mins I’ll have a meal. Not a big one. Just a serving of rice and some chicken or beef. I’ll be working out around 1 to 2 hours later depending on my work, so I need something fast digesting. Workout will be pretty much same. Heavy weights, same number of reps and sets. No cardio during this month. Throughout the whole time that I can eat, instead of plain water, I’ll drink amino mix in water. I only trust BPI BLOX since they came out 2 years ago. It’s my staple ever since; whether pre-contest or off season. I have to constantly keep my body in an anabolic state and amino, be it BCAA or SAA is essential I feel. Post workout, I’ll have whey mix with glucose again. I’ll leave gym around 1130pm (yes, THAT late) and once I reach home I’ll have another meal before sleeping for a few hours. Waking up at 5am to have a final meal. That will be sustained release food. I’ll have sweet potatoes and chicken breast. And a while later, 2 scoops of casein so that I have long lasting protein that can at least last 4 hours in my body. I’m try to prevent catabolism as much as I possibly can.
In terms of diet, I play around with the timing
Pre Dawn Meal: 4.30am – ON Hydrobuilder + ON Casein + Glutamine
Break fast: 7.15pm – ON Hydrowhey, glutamine, dates, fruits and water
7.30pm – Whatever is for dinner
9.00pm – Proteins + lots of water
11.30pm – ON Casein + ON Hydrobuilder
I plan my training timing between 4-6pm. My usual program still follows but I will still listen to my body, if I’m tired or not feeling too good I would stop. But at the end of the day it’s ALL mental discipline. Because my season has already started and I have 4 competitions in 4 months, it gives me that needed drive to push on. I don’t want to show up at a competition and be in shit condition. Ramadhan still goes on, fasting still goes on, life still goes on. During this month is when your faith and mental desire is being tested. To me fasting and training during Ramadhan actually give me more clarity and focus. Also a learning process to learn to listen to my body and constantly making small changes to make sure I’m still competition ready. For those Muslim brothers of Iron who are still training hard – Stay strong because while others are not training, you would have gotten leaner and made more cleaner gains within the month! That is what separates being on podium and being not on podium.
My approach towards training and diet during Ramadhan are as follows;
- I train after breaking fast, reason being is that training fasted will lead to dehydration which will increases the risk of injury and will inhibit performance and recovery. Training while dehydrated won’t give you a good pump as well which isn’t a good thing especially when our main concern is muscle hypertrophy.
- As for now I’m currently dieting for the upcoming ASIAN Championship over Macau. My calories intake will go to maintenance instead of deficit. If calories are too low, you’ll be worn down and under-recovered from the training program. You will find that you lose fat naturally from the fast, provided that your calories are sensible, remember portion can be misleading when eating a day’s worth of food over a short period.
- Forget the ’no carbs at night’ claptrap. Carbohydrates at night is actually more muscle-sparing and fat burning than having a larger breakfast.
- Stay hydrated at night. Aim for at least 2.5 litres or more depending on your bodyweight. Try to spread this out throughout the evening, so you don’t flush it all and end up thirsty the next day.
- Lastly I stick to compound lifts such as squat, deadlift, overhead press and also bench press over isolation movement to retain muscle mass during this period.
Well for me it’s very hard to eat early in the morning (Suhoor before the dawn of Ramadan). What I have is oats and casein every morning. I normally train 1 or 2 hours before breaking fast. This way you can eat several times post workout to help recovery. You also maximize your feeding window since you don’t spend it training. As to maintain strength I will just do 10 to 12 reps straight sets to maintain my strength as much as possible. Most importantly, fatty and sugary foods can increase your total calories by a lot, so watch out for them, although I admit, I still have them on some days.
My advice to my Muslim brothers and sisters, just try to take this opportunity of this good fasting month as a detox as fasting improves well being and health.