One month out of the twelve months of the year, Muslims all around the world observe one of the most important aspects of their Islamic spiritual journey: Ramadan. This journey is entirely devoted to God, the Holy Quran, charity, good deeds and…Fasting. One must refrain from drinking or eating anything from dawn to dusk. Now, if you are a “workoutaholic” like me, then you may be experiencing the challenges of maintaining your gym and proper nutrition routines during this month. Well fear no more my friends, I am going to share 8 tips with you that are helping me continue my fitness journey while still being able to embrace my spiritual journey this month.
Tip 1: Don’t Stop. Stay Active
If you were already on a workout routine then DON’T STOP being active in your fitness lifestyle. I was honestly a little nervous about incorporating workouts after a full day of fasting but so far I have been amazed at what our bodies are capable of enduring. If you stop exercising completely then you might end up reversing the effects. And chances are you may also lose some strength and possibly even some hard earned muscle mass, but more than anything, you may not stick to a healthy eating (and feeling) lifestyle (during and after Ramadan).
If you were not on a regular fitness routine prior to Ramadan then use this month to incorporate a healthy lifestyle because during fasting, your body is going through a detox process anyway… so this is the perfect time to incorporate some healthy habits in your diet and exercise routine. Now, again, if you were not already on an exercise routine prior to Ramadan then don’t over do it right now. You don’t want to go crazy and end up passing out because your body is not used to working out in general, let alone when you’re fasting. What I recommend is going on a daily/nightly run or jog for about an hour, 3 times a week after (or right before) iftar. Just keep active. Don’t stop moving.
Tip 2: Set Different Fitness Goals & Routines. Less Cardio
For the entire month of Ramadan, my fitness goals are a little different from my normal goals. An important thing to remember this month is that you should not be looking to make major gains or muscle growth. Adequate amount of nutrition plays a huge role in the process of building lean muscle. You must realize that the amount of calories you are going to being eating in Ramadan may fluctuate daily. For me, my fitness goal this month is to maintain and build strength. I can feel a slight decrease in my muscle mass “tightness” but nothing major to even stress about.
Workout wise, I have cut down from working out 5-6x a week to only 3x a week. To preserve energy (since I workout 1-2 hours pre-iftaar due to my schedule) I don’t incorporate any high intensity cardio but instead, I do my normal weight and strength training. It seems to take me a little longer to finish my reps, but I get it done. During this month, you should focus on strength training to help prevent muscle loss. If you do a lot of cardio (especially if you workout pre-iftaar), you are going to lose a lot of energy and become much more dehydrated so I highly recommend avoiding any high intensity cardio.
Tip 3: Fail to Plan. Plan to Fail
Like a normal healthy lifestyle, you often have to plan ahead of time. This means you have to plan what you will eat daily/weekly as well as when you will exercise. In Ramadan, the planning goes one step forward with taking into account suhoor and iftar timings as well as the additional prayers and readings from the Quran, etc. So yes, even in Ramadan, if you want to eat healthy, then you must plan ahead and “meal prep.” One thing about meal prepping this month for me is that my meal it’s slightly different and not as “organized.” I don’t actually make many of my meals for the week ahead of time but instead, I pre marinate all my proteins for the weeks iftar as well as cook my carbs and cut any vegetables that I will be using that week. I also make some healthy “treats” (almond flour berry muffins, date truffles, yogurt parfaits, etc.– I will post all recipes on the blog soon) to crunch those post-iftar cravings. To me, “meal prepping” in Ramadan is way quicker than my normal preps since I am only preparing for about two meals per day for both my husband and I.
Tip 4: Eat Nutritious to Fuel Your Body. Protein, Fruits & Vegetables
One of the most common things people go through during Ramadan is that they actually gain weight. Wait… say what? Yep, this is mainly because of the common/traditional Ramadan diet which consists of fried foods, sweets that are high in carbohydrates and fat. When we haven’t eaten all day long, our bodies are craving spicy, sweet and crunchy foods so therefore, many families will make batches of appetizers to satisfy those cravings. In most South Asian households, these cravings are suppressed by indulging in fried samosa, sweet Roohafza drinks and other fried or starchy foods. I am guilty of eating all of this during past Ramadans but this year I wanted to have more energy and sustain my healthy lifestyle as much as possible — so I changed up my Ramadan diet.
This Ramadan, I am trying to avoid sugary, processed, fried, extremely stretchy and junk foods. What these types of foods do to your body after a full day of fasting is that it sucks any remaining energy right out of you, turns into stored fat, and makes you feel bloated. Of course I don’t believe in depriving myself (of snacks :-0) but I try not to let that be the bulk of my calories for the day. More than Iftaar, I think the breakfast (suhoor) meal is extremely important (since it is the only meal you eat before a full day of fasting). Therefore, it is advisable not to skip this meal. I used to be notorious for not waking up for suhoor or waking up 10 minutes before imsak and quickly eating only one egg and drinking some water. I have completely changed that this year and my energy level has been great, Alhamdulillah.
You want to try and avoid fried, salty and sweet foods as those can leave you bloated and feeling thirsty all day. Here is an example of one of my suhoor meals:
Two whole eggs (+ sometimes 1-2 egg whites… depending on my stomach’s mood) with either a while wheat tortilla, wholegrain english muffin, Ezekiel bread or sweet potato hash browns baked in the oven, pineapple and LOTS of water. I try to eat fruits that are dense in water (pineapple, watermelon, oranges) to keep me from feeling dehydrated throughout the day. For Iftaar, again I try to avoid fried, sweet and salty foods but sometimes cravings are intense so giving in here and there (or at iftaar gatherings) it is not a big deal as long as the bulk of your Iftaar calories are protein and fiber dense on majority of the days. Lastly, eating something post-iftaar (pre bed) is very important. For this meal/snack, I like to either drink a protein shake, eat a protein bar with nuts or fruit, or eat yogurt with fruit. Yogurt is supposed to keep you from feeling thirsty so that’s a plus.
Tip 5: Eat Enough. Add Supplements
If you feel that during your fasts, you lack energy throughout the entire day, then you must not be eating enough. If you give yourself enough calories and feed yourself enough protein and nutrients that you need, then you will have more energy throughout the entire day. You also want to provide your body with the right nutrients to avoid going into a catabolic state (breaking down of your muscle tissue). After you workout, your muscles will break down and to counteract this, you have to make sure that you are consuming high-quality nutrient sources during your eating windows (iftaar, post-iftaar, and suhoor). Also, don’t be shy of relying on supplements to hit your calorie/protein goals this month. Protein and BCAA are great to add to your supplements this if you don’t already drink them normally. Of course eating natural sources of protein will hold in your body longer but with such short eating times this Ramadan, some nights it becomes impossible to eat so much. Casein protein is a good protein to drink before bed as it stays in your body longer than whey protein. Yogurt or a protein bar is also another good choice. Also, eating before bed is not bad for you as long as you are not eating junk. I want my body to recover and hydrate during its resting state, so that is why I try to fuel up just a little before bed.
Tip 6: Water should be your only friend
In Ramadan, one common effect of hot summer fasting that people go through is dehydration. Water is the most important and only fluid that will fully replenish your body. I make sure I am drinking enough water in Ramadan by drinking a glass full almost every 20 minutes during my eating windows. You want to avoid drinking too much all at once as that will cause major stomach aches. Another suggestion is to avoid sugary drinks as those will leave you feeling thirsty throughout the night and day. Keep a big bottle like this one here ready in your refrigerator and try to make a goal to finish at least a little more than half by the end of the night before bed. Try to do the same during suhoor. Yes, you will have to go to the bathroom a lot, but that is the sacrifice you must make to feel hydrated throughout the entire day.
Tip 7: Sleep
During Ramadan, many of us overlook sleep. We must remember the importance of sleep to muscle recovery, metabolism, and brain functioning. With so many prayers that we perform during this month, sometimes sleep really does go to the back burner, so that’s why it is important to plan out a sleep schedule for the month (especially if you have a full-time job/school schedule). One way that I am getting enough sleep this month is by spending less time on social media, phone and other nonsense outlets that take up too much of my time. I try to focus more on praying, reading the Quran, preparing iftaar and suhoor, and getting sufficient amount of sleep. I try to avoid going to bed past 11:00 PM so that I am able to wake up around 2:45 AM for suhoor and prayer. I then go back to sleep for about 3 more hours before waking back up for work. Getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep during the fasting month should give you enough energy to function properly throughout your day.
Tip 8: Don’t over focus on fitness this month. Focus on Deen & the Purpose of Ramadan
As easy as it is to get caught up in what goes on outside of Ramadan, it is very important to remember why we are fasting and celebrating this holy month. It isn’t to reach certain “fitness goals” but rather to reach certain “spiritual goals.” Whenever I have felt that I am not giving my 100% at the gym or eating properly this month, I remind my self that I have 11 months to do that. For me, exercising is a form of self-reflection and achievement, Ramadan is also a time for self-reflection and to remind myself how others live to humble myself.
I hope these tips were helpful for the remaining days of Ramadan. Remember, life is all about balance. Try to find that balance between a healthy lifestyle… physically, mentally and spiritually. Feel free to contact me if you would like to know anything else about my current fitness journey in Ramadan.