Ramadan - Fasting/ Training/ Eating Safe (Part 3/3)
How To Eat & Should You Exercise During Ramadan?
Now let's talk about how to eat and exercise safely during Ramadan. I'll outline some options below that you may wish to trial during this month to optimise your health and lose weight effectively.
Having read the previous parts to this article it may become clear that binging when it’s time to open and close your fast is probably NOT the best idea. So ideally you would want to carry on with your normal day to day diet; containing quality protein, high proportion of vegetables, complex carbohydrate and essential fats. In the short window you have to eat, choosing such foods will be beneficial in promoting your health and weight loss. Take a look below.
Closing the fast (Suhoor)
Going back to a well-rounded balanced diet were now faced with the problem of what to eat and in particular what time to eat. Eating foods high in trans fats and sugary foods will need to be replaced. Instead opt for high calorie dense foods when closing your fast. For example, complex carbohydrates (Brown rice), quality protein & fats (Chicken breast/ salmon fillet) and of course those essential vegetables (Broccoli, spinach) should be staple.
Eating a large meal early hours in the morning may actually be of benefit to you. This will sustain energy levels throughout your work day period. Even though this meal will be quite high in calories you need not to worry. This is because you’re about to enter a fasted state, after the first 3 hours your body will respond to the presence of low sugar in the blood, and call upon required hormones to keep your body in an optimal state to keep you going.
If we were to load up on our carbohydrate early in the morning, the body will have no problem using this in the latter stages of fasting to use up as energy. After a few days of continuing to eat carbohydrate in the morning, this will allow for stable weight loss, as mentioned previously the body inevitably acquiring the state of ketosis. This means that the carbohydrate you eat will be supplied to other areas such as the brain for keeping concentration levels high. (It's important to bare in mind that you can still over eat on your carbohydrate levels and this needs be trialled and tested throughout).
Opening the fast (Iftar)
This meal is probably just as important as the closing meal. At this time we actually need to be consuming sources of high quality protein, fats, fibre and moderate to low carbohydrates. To cover carbohydrate and fibre intake I would recommend eating vegetables (carrots, asparagus, mushroom, broccoli and spinach) and having a portion of fruit after the meal (Strawberries, cantaloupe and blueberries). This is because we need to ensure content of fibre is high, in order to control blood sugar levels getting out of hand when opening fast.
Eating high amounts of protein and fats at this time will keep your blood sugar levels moderate, avoid muscle being used as a fuel source and also stimulate hormones that put your body under a fat burning process. This will also produce greater reliance as fat being used as fuel whilst resting and exercise. There is also the added benefit of minimising snacking late on, which is usually where the weight creeps up. Effectively this will be your smallest meal (although rich in calories) which will allow you to have a further meal a few hours later. Your plate should consist of vegetables, meat including fish or chicken, and also some fresh garnish with olives and avocado.
The in between meal
This period is where you replace the snacking with another meal. It would usually be good to consume this in between meal immediately prior or after prayers (depending when you train). This would also be ideal to have as a post work-out meal for when you train. Although, there will be some differences between the post-workout meal and treating it as an in between meal. The in between meal will generally be an extension of when opening the fast, except a slightly bigger portion in terms of protein and fats. Whereas a post-workout meal will include high complex carbohydrates mentioned earlier. However, there are alternative ways to go about it by manipulating all of the meals, and which will also be affected by your lifestyle and training.
To train or not to train during Ramadan?
Before I answer that question you need to ask yourself where you are in terms of your training. If you train regular (at least 60-120 minutes p/week) then you probably don’t won’t to stop training completely. This is due to a loss of strength and lean muscle. Therefore, I would recommend continuing training with adequate nutrition and hydration. Training this month will also optimise levels of fat as a fuel, sparing carbohydrate as fuel during exercise, enhancing the fat burning process.
When to train?
Training whilst fasting is actually common, If you think about it having slept overnight you’re already in a fasted state. The ideology behind this is to use fat as an energy source over carbohydrate first thing in the morning, burning fat stores. However, we need to be cautious because following any training session we need to replenish energy stores and most importantly protein. This is so our muscles can repair and regrow under the stress of exercise we have just put ourselves through. Therefore, I would not recommend training early in the day itself as no water intake can lead to dehydration impairing your performance for the rest of the day. No ingestion of protein before, during or following your session makes it difficult for your body to repair itself and working toward the regeneration of building new muscle tissue. However, training an hour max before the time of opening fast may in fact be ok, depending on the training you carry out and providing you immediately have your post-workout meal ready.
What type of exercise?
The type and duration of exercise will influence whether you drop weight as well as muscle or drop body fat alone whilst maintaining/ increasing muscle.
Given the short window of opportunity to consume your meal for this to work you would need to limit any type of exercise down to an hour. Simply doing slow aerobic type exercise (30min max), will result in weight loss as well as muscle (not ideal). Completing interval type work (20-30min max) will be more effective than aerobic training, although this will require greater energy levels. Therefore you need to think whether doing this in a fasted state is practical.
I would suggest weight training which can actually be for as little as 30 minutes. This will undoubtedly shed body fat and increase muscle. Training at lower volumes can stimulate muscle effectively to increase muscle and burn body fat.
To summarise you could either try routine A, B or C that will be most convenient for your lifestyle whilst fasting, losing weight and training safely.
Routine A - Train late at night
Open fast eating small portion (First Meal- low carbs, high protein, high fats)
Wight train/ Interval training (High volume) late in the night (1 hour max)
Post-work out/closing fast large portion (Second meal- high carbs, high protein, moderate fats)
Routine B - Train straight after opening fast
Open fast eating small portion (First Meal- low carbs, high protein/ high fats)
Weight train/ Interval training (high volume-30 Minutes)
Post-workout meal (Second meal- high carbs, high protein, low fats)
Close fast largest meal (Third meal- moderate Carbs, moderate protein, moderate fats)
Routine C - Train an hour before opening fast
Weight train only (Low volume) 30-60minutes before opening fast
Open fast, post-workout meal eating medium portion (High carbs, High protein/fats)
In between meal (Low carbs, low protein/ fats)
Close fast largest meal (High carbs, moderate protein/ fats)
The one thing I will highlight that will probably dictate your overall weight loss and training is getting into a routine. The information I give you will not work for everyone, but you could at least trial it and see how you go for 2 weeks. If it’s not working for you maybe try a different routine pattern on a weekly basis.
Consistency and routine is important following Ramadan. Once you have established what is best for you and that you feel comfortable with your new found diet. Carrying this over after Ramadan has finished will certainly be the real test. This doesn’t mean you need to carry on fasting, however, it will provide you with the tools on understanding how to manage your training and diet in reaching your goals.
Thank you for taking your time to read the 3 part article series. I hope you have a better understanding to how your body responds when fasting and also ways in which you can use this month to utilise your weight loss for a healthier and better lifestyle. If you have any questions or would like more information please comment below, or drop us a message on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jdarpt