Exercise and fasting can go together without causing any harm to the body. During the fasting period, exercise can help elevate energy levels, improve physical fitness, build muscle and joint strength and boost body composition. It also helps control weight and keeps the body healthy.
As well as various physical and health benefits, exercise also has many neurological advantages, including improved neurogenesis (increased brain cell production) and enhanced mental strength and toughness. More people around the world are becoming fitness conscious and setting goals to develop the habit of training during Ramadan.
But there is a catch.
“While exercising during Ramadan is important, fueling your body with the right food after iftar is equally important,” says Abhinav Malhotra, elite master trainer at Fitness First Middle East. “You need to maintain a high-quality protein intake to support your training and stimulate muscle protein synthesis (making of new muscle cells).”
To help keep a safe fitness routine rolling right through the holy month, Malhotra has shared his recommendations for the best exercises to do, workouts to avoid and the optimum time of the day to exercise.
Start resistance training
If there’s a best form of exercise during Ramadan, it is resistance training, which can be done using either free weights or your own bodyweight. The best exercises to do in resistance training include all compound movements – squats, lunges, step-ups, deadlifts, pulling and pushing – and rows, pull-ups, push-ups and presses. During the holy month, the body is mostly in a catabolic state and it is easy to lose muscle mass and feel weak. This type of training will help preserve vital muscle mass, strength, improve hormone profile (testosterone, cortisol, insulin, growth hormone) and your emotional state by producing the happy hormones known as endorphins.
Resistance training can also help with borderline diabetes, as it improves insulin sensitivity and stabilizes blood sugar levels by increasing both the size of muscle cells and the number of insulin receptors on them, making them more available for carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen.
All these movements can be done with your own bodyweight at home. You can add resistance and make them a bit harder if you have free weights like dumbbells or kettlebells. If you don’t have weights, you can improvise with heavy bags, heavy water bottles or suitcases. Keep the total training time to 40-45 minutes.
Avoid high-intensity cardio
While fasting, avoid high-intensity cardio or high-intensity circuit training. This form of training relies heavily on stored glycogen as an energy substrate, which is not readily available due to the prolonged fasting. Inadequate glycogen can lead to loss of muscle mass, as protein is converted into glucose via the process of gluconeogenesis to support quick energy demands. Additionally, this form of training leads to more sweating, resulting in loss of water and electrolytes, which is certainly not ideal during Ramadan.
Schedule your training
The ideal time to train Dduring Ramadan is right before iftar or one or two hours after. There are advantages and disadvantages to both so the choice is down to personal preference.
Training before iftar
Training in a fasted state might sound challenging but most people do enjoy it, especially after the first few days have passed. The body gets used to training in a fasted state and develops mental focus and intensity tolerance. This is because the insulin levels are low during fasting, which leads to the production of more neurotransmitters. These help you focus better and intensify your workouts, while utilising stored fats more efficiently during the workouts.
Fasted training also leads to better partitioning of the nutrients consumed during iftar. After a full day of fasting, followed by a training session, the body will be hungry for nutrients. The carbohydrates you consume carbohydrates will be easily stored as muscle glycogen and proteins will quickly go to the damaged muscle fibres to kickstart repair and growth. Training before iftar will also allow for more time with family and friends after iftar and give you more time to sleep.
If you’re a person who feels more sluggish after iftar and have difficulty sleeping after intense training sessions in the evening, then try switching to fasted training before iftar.
Training after iftar
Many people feel more energized to train after they have eaten rather than when they’re hungry. If you are one of those people, consider exercising after breaking your fast. The presence of more glucose and amino acids circulating in the blood makes for more favorable conditions for supporting high volume training. The higher the number of workouts, the more calories you will burn and more you will build muscle hypertrophy.