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 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 a week, about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours each time.
With regard to my nutrition, I will still ensure that my body receives 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 me hydrated as much as possible. This means I will be drinking water (if possible with some sea salt to hold the water) when I have breakfast 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 breakfast. 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 a workout but to realize they cannot perform the way they expected of themselves. This is due to the fact that energy is needed to break down 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. The digestive system is like a 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 breakfast and then slowly introduce solid food into the body.
Below is an exact diet plan that works for me and has been doing it for some time. Try it to see if it works for you.
7.20 pm (Breakfast)
- 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 litres of water. This amount of water will be sufficient to keep you hydrated throughout. In my opinion, there is no need for any pre-workout drink. Training will be a short burst and that doesn’t 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 tablespoons of coconut oil
- 500ml of plain water
11 pm (Before You Sleep)
- 5 whole eggs 1 tablespoon of coconut oil 500ml of plain water
- 430am (Sahur)
- Half a chicken
- 150g rice
- 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 weeks, 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 for 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, the body will slowly eat into the muscles for fuel and energy. This silently 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 in which you can lift the heaviest and then the rest of the exercises to be 15-30 reps 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 bodies physically, mentally, 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 are 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 bodies 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 7.15 pm. First thing I down will be whey. 2 scoops mix with plain glucose. Need something fast digesting after about 13 hours of fasting. 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. The workout will be pretty much the same. Heavyweights, the 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 been 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 mixed with glucose again. I’ll leave the 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 5 am to have a final meal. That will be sustained release of 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 trying to prevent catabolism as much as I possibly can.
In terms of diet, I play around with the timing
- Pre Dawn Meal: 4.30 am – ON Hydrobuilder + ON Casein + Glutamine
- Break fast: 7.15 pm – ON Hydrowhey, glutamine, dates, fruits and water
- 7.30 pm – Whatever is for dinner
- 9.00pm – Proteins + lots of water
- 11.30pm – ON Casein + ON Hydrobuilder
I plan my training timing between 4-6 pm. 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 the 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 make 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 cleaner gains within the month! That is what separates being on the podium and being not on the podium.
My approach towards training and diet during Ramadhan are as follows;
- I train after breaking fast, the reason being is that training fast will lead to dehydration which will increase 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 calorie intake will go to maintenance instead of a 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 portions 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 liters or more depending on your body weight. 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 squats, deadlifts, overhead presses and also bench presses over isolation movement to retain muscle mass during this period.
Wishing all my Muslim brothers and sisters who ‘LIFT’ a good Ramadhan, insyaAllah. My Instagram/Twitter: @faizzariffin
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 for 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 maintaining 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 is just to try to take this opportunity of this good fasting month as a detox as fasting improves well-being and health.
Working out during Ramadan can be safe and beneficial if done properly. It’s important to take certain precautions, such as staying hydrated, eating a balanced meal, and avoiding high-intensity exercises. By following these guidelines and listening to your body, you can stay active and maintain your fitness goals while still honoring the spiritual significance of Ramadan. Remember, staying active is not only important for your physical health but can also have a positive impact on your mental health and overall well-being.
Is it safe to workout during Ramadan while fasting?
Yes, it is generally safe to workout during Ramadan while fasting. However, it is important to take certain precautions and adjustments to your routine to ensure that you are not compromising your health.
What are the best times to workout during Ramadan?
The best times to workout during Ramadan are either right before iftar, in the early morning before suhoor, or after taraweeh prayers at night. It is important to choose a time that works best for your schedule and energy levels.
How can I maintain my energy levels during a workout while fasting?
- To maintain your energy levels during a workout while fasting, it is important to eat a balanced meal during suhoor and iftar, stay hydrated, and avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day.
What types of exercises are best suited for working out during Ramadan?
Low to moderate-intensity exercises like yoga, walking, and stretching are best suited for working out during Ramadan. Avoid high-intensity exercises that could lead to dehydration or exhaustion.