Published: 2021-04-11 16:53
Last Updated: 2022-01-23 21:18
Editor: Raghad Jaber
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims around the world, wherein they abstain from drinking and eating from dawn until dusk. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercising can be considered tough for some even during normal circumstances, but it is particularly important during Ramadan to stay healthy and look after yourself. It is also a massive misconception to put your exercise regime on hold during Ramadan.
So, is it possible to workout whilst fasting for 15 hours a day?
Yes, of course it is!
Here is everything you need to know about the benefits of fasted exercise, and exercising during Iftar, in addition to some tips on how to make it benefit your body.
-Listening to your body-
Everyone responds to fasting in different ways. We all have distinctive body types and how our bodies function whilst fasting can vary significantly from one person to another. Just because someone is exercising before Iftar doesn’t mean that you should. Tuning into your body and recognizing what it needs is imperative so make sure that you do what feels right for you.
-Fasted exercise and the science behind it-
Have you ever wondered what happens to your body when you work out whilst fasting?
There are many studies that evidence the extraordinary benefits of doing so. In combining fasting and exercise, your body raises the levels of the growth hormone and in turn increases your insulin sensitivity. The growth hormone is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth in all aspects of the body e.g., cell regeneration and cell reproduction. Increased production of the growth hormone (HGH) optimizes fat loss and muscle creation at the same time. HGH also improves the appearance of the skin, boosts your metabolism and speeds up muscle tissue repair after an injury. This is what keeps your body lively and lean. Additionally, insulin is a hormone that helps your body absorb nutrients when you eat and uses some of the sugars in a form of storage in the liver. Increasing the sensitivity of it reduces blood sugar as your body starts using glucose more effectively. This results in decreased risk in pretty much all diseases, less frequent cravings, and eventually leads to fat loss and also improved brain health.
The best way to take advantage of this is to exercise right before iftar (or two to three hours before) as these effects last until the fast stops.
Keeping all of this in mind, you need to make sure to eat a balanced and nourishing meal at Iftar. It has to have carbohydrates and protein (don’t forget to hydrate). Furthermore, when doing fasted exercise, over time, your body becomes less dependent on carbohydrates for energy and more dependent on fat. This can decrease metabolic flexibility which isn’t ideal, as your body will only depend on fat now and not carbohydrates. This can lead to your body unsafely and ineffectively utilizing nutrients and resulting in decreased energy levels and fatigue.
In doing fasted cardio, your body uses your oxidised fat sources rather than glycogen or carbohydrates as your insulin levels would have dropped and your blood sugar is low. Over time, this will increase your endurance! Nevertheless, if you are not fueling your body enough, your body can break down muscle tissue. If that is the case, opt for low intensity cardio such as walking, LIIT etc.
-Fasted strength training and weightlifting-
This form of exercise should be performed whilst keeping in mind that you need to eat a meal directly after. The reason for this is that when you are fasting your glycogen stores are already depleted meaning muscle cannot produce ATP (organic compound which drives energy) to maintain the intensity of the workout. Since resistance training puts a lot of stress on the body, which can generate fatigue in your muscles as your body is relying on muscle tissue for energy. To avoid this process of muscle loss and fatigue you need to eat directly after the workout provided that the meal includes a combination of proteins and carbs to rebuild and restore your energy levels.
Overall, regardless of the type of exercise, aim for a low impact workout. Use the first couple days of Ramadan to allow your body to adjust, and as your body becomes more adapted, you can increase your duration and intensity.
-Exercise after fasting-
It is recommended to exercise thirty minutes to an hour after a light Iftar. If you are having a heavy Iftar, you should exercise two to three hours after - if time allows. Performance will be at its peak once the body is fuelled as your energy levels will increase. You can do any type of workout you want and it is ideal to perform resistance training after Iftar rather than before to avoid muscle loss. Training after Iftar allows the body to maintain/build muscle mass and burn body fat. The best thing about this is you can drink water whilst exercising.
Exercising after Iftar may be unrealistic to some as it is either too late, or will make sleeping difficult. It can also interrupt your Isha praying schedule. However, if you have time to squeeze in a workout, why not? You will benefit from the higher energy levels.
-Seeing what works best for you-
At the end of the day, it’s all about listening to your body. There is no optimal time for a workout during Ramadan and exercise needs to be a part of your routine to stabilize mental and physical health. It’s all about finding out what works for your body and schedule. If you feel like doing it before Iftar, simply do it. If not, you can always do it after. Just make sure to eat a well-balanced diet and hydrate and you are on your way to a healthy Ramadan.